UN Security Council Briefing: Bosnia and Herzegovina

Ministry Statements & Speeches:

Statement delivered by Gerard van Bohemen Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations, 8 July 2015.

Council Members, we have heard today from the Deputy Secretary General and from the High Commissioner for Human Rights about the events in Srebrenica, which the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice determined involved acts of genocide. New Zealand joins with others in remembering the victims of this genocide. We express our deep condolences to the victims and their friends and families.

The devastating effects of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina are still felt today, not least in the memories of those who lost loved ones in the conflict. We offer our sympathy for all victims of that conflict, many of whom perished in mass killings which still shock our collective conscience today.

Thankfully, twenty years on, the situation on the ground is of course very different. However, after two decades reconciliation remains a live issue which requires continued nurturing. We have seen important steps taken by all sides towards reconciliation. Pledges have been made to walk further down this path to peace and friendship. New Zealand encourages all involved to walk this path together.

In his 1999 Report on the Fall of Srebrenica, the then Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked “how will the United Nations ensure that no future peacekeeping operation witnesses such a calamity on its watch?” More than 15 years later, that is a question which is still looking for a comprehensive answer. It is a question to which the memories of all victims of genocide and mass atrocities deserve an answer. We as a Council have a duty to remember the past in order that we do everything possible to avoid history repeating.

New Zealand deeply regrets that the efforts that we and others made over a considerable period to try to ensure that this commemorative event would be marked by a united Council did not prove possible.

While acknowledging the relevant provisions of the United Nations Charter, since 1945, New Zealand has consistently opposed the veto. New Zealand regrets that despite achieving support from a majority of Council members this resolution has not been agreed because of the exercise of a veto by one of the permanent members. At a commemorative event it strikes us as particularly inappropriate that a veto was used. And while it was only one negative vote, the outcome reflects on all of us. It once more demonstrates how we must all find better ways of working to ensure the Council can reach agreement and act when it should.

The United Nations and this Council failed many victims of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, not least those in Srebrenica. Those failures came at a horrific cost to innocent people of all sides and are still felt strongly all these years later. Today, this Council has failed those innocent victims again.

Looking to the future, in order to avoid another event like Srebrenica, or indeed another Rwanda, we must do more than just strive to design better mandates and work to improve the capabilities of peacekeeping missions which this Council authorises, although of course that is an important place to start. But beyond this, it is clear that this Council should be more active in trying to prevent violent conflict before it begins.

But let us also be honest enough to admit to each other and to ourselves that the only guarantee of preventing the horrors witnessed at Srebrenica from happening again is if we as Member States live up to the Charter commitments we took on as a condition of joining this organisation. We all – all members of the United Nations – have to own this responsibility, irrespective of race, colour, creed or history, or state of development. This is fundamental to our common and shared humanity.


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