Violence against Kosovar Albanians, NATO's intervention 1998-1999

Médecins Sans Frontières

The ‘Violence against Kosovar Albanians NATO’s intervention 1998-1999’ case study describes the constraints and dilemmas facing Médecins Sans Frontières teams that witnessed a process of terror and expulsion which they described as the ‘deportation’ of Kosovar Albanians by Serb forces. It also described MSF’s reaction to NATO aerial bombings and the control exercised over the refugee camps by this party to the conflict. Should MSF denounce the violence being committed against Kosovars at the risk of being excluded from access to these people and of encouraging the NATO intervention? Should MSF take a stance on the NATO intervention? What sort of relationship should be established with countries that were committed either militarily (such as NATO members) or politically (Greece) in the conflict and their civil societies? Should MSF raise the alarm about the absence of the UNHCR in the management of the refugee camps, at the risk of reinforcing this marginalization? Is it justifiable to carry out an assessment mission that sacrifices the principle of operational independence, by invoking an interpretation of the principle of impartiality that implies a responsibility to assist victims on both sides of a conflict?
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Médecins Sans Frontières
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May 18, 2016
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L’étude cas “Génocide des Rwandais tutsis 1994” examine les difficultés, questionnements et dilemmes rencontrés par Médecins Sans Frontières pendant le génocide des Rwandais tutsis en avril, mai et juin 1994.

Ces massacres se sont déroulé malgré la présence dans le pays, depuis plusieurs mois, de troupes des Nations unies, tandis que les États membres du Conseil de Sécurité des Nations unies tardaient à qualifier de génocide l’extermination des Tutsis, se dérobant ainsi à l’obligation d’intervention prescrite par le droit international.
Médecins Sans Frontières allia alors rencontres diplomatiques et prises de parole publiques dans l’espoir de bousculer l’inertie des États.

Ces prises de position et ces engagements furent le résultat de débats, de conflits, d’oppositions entre interprétations de la situation rwandaise et du rôle de Médecins Sans Frontières face à des dilemmes majeurs : Etait-il acceptable que Médecins Sans Frontières, en tant qu’organisation humanitaire, garde le silence total face à un génocide ou au contraire appelle à une intervention armée, c’est à dire à une action qui entraînerait la mort d’êtres humains ? Etait-il envisageable que Médecins Sans Frontières appelle les Etats à d’autres modes d’action, au risque de justifier une réponse de leur part totalement inefficace, au regard de la nature même du génocide ? Lancé au moment où la France proposait d’intervenir au Rwanda, l’appel de Médecins Sans Frontières ne risquai-t-il pas d’être récupéré politiquement ?

 On 14 December 1995, the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords ended the separatist war in former Yugoslavia and created the State of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Twenty years on, MSF reveals how the organization spoke out about a conflict marked by ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, targeted assaults of humanitarian organizations and individuals, and the unfulfilled promises by the International Community.

MSF claimed that mass distributions of aid were simply a ‘humanitarian alibi’ of the international community that lacked the will to take political and military measures to end the conflict. Some MSF leaders even called for an armed intervention against the Bosnian-Serb artillery bombing Sarajevo.

In December 1992, MSF published a report describing the Bosnian Serb policy of ethnic cleansing. They denounced the Bosnian Serbs for hindering supplies to Srebrenica and Gorazde Muslim besieged enclaves. They raised awareness and denounced the lack of protection of the population when the enclaves came under attack in 1994 and 1995 despite being declared safe zones by the UN.

In August 1995, MSF denounced a lack of access to the Serb refugees and from 2000, MSF advocated for parliamentary commissions to be set up to investigate the military and political responsibilities of the States involved in the Srebrenica crisis.

This Speaking Out Case Study explores the variety of questions and dilemmas MSF faced, Among them: to what extent should MSF risk the lives of its staff in order to operate in conflict zones? Should MSF condemn obstacles set up to limit the access to the population if it meant no longer having any access at all? Should MSF denounce the fact that humanitarian aid was presented by the international political leaders as the only solution to the conflict and call for military force, an action that would lead to loss of human life?

 The case study ‘MSF and Srebrenica 1993-2003’ explores the constraints and dilemmas raised when MSF spoke out about the events that occurred in Srebrenica’s Muslim enclave. The enclave was besieged in 1993 and then seized by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995. 8,000 men over the age of 16 were massacred, despite the presence of United Nations peacekeeping forces supposedly providing protection in what had been declared a ‘security zone’. With teams present in the enclave throughout, Médecins Sans Frontières testified to what happened and called on the various countries involved to hold inquiries and establish where military and political responsibility lay for the fall of the enclave and abandon of the people of Srebrenica.

By agreeing to provide a minimally acceptable level of relief to a besieged population, wasn’t MSF contributing to the strategy of the besieging troops while concurrently softening their image? Could MSF call for the evacuation of civilians who wished to leave thereby risking abetting the ethnic cleansing policy of the besieging army? Having trusted the UN Protection Force’s commitment to protect the enclave and its population, must MSF accept partial culpability for or complicity in the UN’s abandonment of the enclave and the ensuing massacre of the population? Didn’t MSF give the population the false impression that it would be safe as long as the team was present? Is it the role of a humanitarian medical organisation to issue an appeal for an investigative parliamentary commission then, once it is established, to actively monitor it with a critical eye? Contrarily, how can MSF not try to understand the circumstances and responsibilities, which, at the global level, led to the abandonment and massacre of a population to which its teams had provided relief? Can MSF be content with calling for a parliamentary investigation without ensuring that it asks the types of questions likely to elicit answers that shed light on the events? Should Srebrenica be viewed as an accident of history or as a clear-cut example of the impossibility of protecting populations under international mandates established by the UN?

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