The Bosnian Case

To the Editors:

Dr. Kasim Trnka, the author of the following, is the former chief justice of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia. During the Vance-Owen talks and the recent talks in Geneva he served as a constitutional expert to the Bosnian delegation. The text published here is from a longer essay that will appear in a forthcoming book, Why Bosnia? Writings on the Balkan War.1 The article has already circulated in Europe as a major statement of the Bosnian case.

In early August the Bosnians were given an ultimatum by David Owen to accept a partition which the Financial Times notes will leave the “Bosnian republic virtually landlocked and geographically disjointed … sandwiched between the new Greater Serbia and Greater Croatia.” The Financial Times noted that under the partition plan Bosnia will have a very “slim chance” of preserving its national identity. Perhaps, this is the end of the story. It may be appropriate to let an articulate Bosnian voice be heard before the coffin is finally closed on their country….

—Lawrence Lifschultz, editor,
The Pamphleteer’s Press

The international community had a moral, political, and legal obligation to stop the war in Bosnia and to prevent its merciless consequences. A clear legal basis for action was provided by the articles of the Helsinki conference and the Paris Charter, which take as their starting point the position that the defense of human rights is not just a question of national sovereignty but also the prerogative and responsibility of the wider international community. On the question of Bosnia, the European Community and the United Nations have demonstrated their incompetence at implementing principles they spent decades developing and drafting into charters.

The EC and the UN initiated two conferences on the war in Bosnia. The first, the London Conference of August 1992, recognized the territorial integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina and identified the aggressor by imposing sanctions against Serbia. Although the London conference and a series of Security Council resolutions defined in principle the acceptable tenets for a resolution of the crisis, no effective mechanism of implementation was developed as a means of either halting hostilities or actually resolving the crisis.

Instead, Bosnia became an experiment in the structuring of international mechanisms for a new era. By overplaying its “fear” of Bosnia becoming a dangerous precedent for international engagement and the use of force in all future crisis points in the world, the international community ultimately tied itself in knots and failed to act effectively on the most essential principles of the UN charter and the Helsinki conference.

The London conference of August 1992 was followed in September 1992 by the so-called Geneva conference, convened under the joint chairmanship of David Owen, representing the EC as its new appointee, and Cyrus Vance, representing the UN secretary-general. The mandate of the Geneva conference was very clear: its sole task was to find mechanisms for the implementation of the London principles. Unfortunately, the Geneva conference deviated from its mandate and in so doing…

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