Someways similar to Syria today, war crimes were being committed against the citizens of Bosnia & Herzegovina in 1992 as newly independent country was under horrific assault by Slobodan Milosevic’s and Ratko Mladic’s Serbian forces. Similar to today, the Security Council was divided. Russia and China were effectively supporting Belgrade but the Big Powers particularly the United Kingdom and France were inclined to allow Milosevic to finish the job of erasing Bosnia & Herzegovina (BiH) from the list of the UN family. The United States was in the middle of a Presidential campaign and disinclined to act not seeing its own overwhelming strategic interest.
The Non-Aligned Movement was not very effective even though after the collapse of the Soviet Union and defeat of Saddam Hussein in Kuwait, this was to be the “New World Order.”
Diego Arria was the highly engaged as well as respected Ambassador of Venezuela. He led the “Non-Aligned Caucus” non-Permanent Members to the UN Security Council. Ambassador Arria and I had quickly developed confidence and respect as well as cooperation. Neither Ambassador Arria nor Venezuela had a direct strategic interest in BiH, but Diego recognized the higher interest of justice as well and hoped for new global commitment to co-existence, pluralism and peace.
It was becoming a promoted narrative that it was a civil war, a religious war– Muslims and Christians killing each other - tearing apart BiH. This served the purpose of the Big Powers who needed to rationalize inaction as well as giving Serbian forces the time to complete the task. The UN Secretariat led then by Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali was inclined to provide the UN Security Council with what its most powerful members wanted to hear to rationalize contrived neutrality, to rationalize inaction, murder of a member state, and ultimately genocide.
A Franciscan Friar and leader of the Catholic community in BiH was visiting New York. We engaged and was provided audience by the 50 some members of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC). It was the first time in UN and OIC history that a Christian cleric had officially addressed the mostly Islamic State Conference.
However, the UN Security Council did not accord the Franciscan Priest the same opportunity to provide testimony as to the nature of the conflict and the genocide and crimes then underway. More accurately, the Big Powers did not want to face testimony that would contradict their narrative that this was a religious war based on some more contrived history of age old hatreds.
Ambassador Diego Arria then asked the Franciscan Friar to provide his testimony to the “Non-Aligned Caucus” and other Ambassador from the Security Council that wanted to hear the truth. Most came, but Diego Arria then provided his own report to the whole Security Council of the discussion/testimony.
It may be hard for most global citizens to conceive that most discussions/decisions then on issues as Bosnia and today on Syria do not favor maximum openness and information access but rather a structured mechanism that effectively favors a preconceived outcome. Two decades earlier, Ambassador Diego Arria initiated a mechanism now labeled the “Arria Formula” to open the UN Security Council to better and more information from which to debate and adopt decisions. Further, the “Arria Formula” also enhanced an overall demand for greater transparency, including for reports of the debates occurring during the so-called “informal consultations” of the Security Council.
The “Arria Formula” has been subsequently used on numerous occasions including to hear the then President of Bosnia & Herzegovina. It clearly is a legacy beyond the service of Ambassador Diego Arria, and now to be employed to gain testimony of the Chief of the UN Human Rights Council appointed Inquiry Commission on Syria, Paulo Pinherio. Some perhaps had not been inclined to hear of the crimes being committed by the Assad Regime and others – and another compelling reason to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court. However, thanks to the Arria Formula and the current German Ambassador invoking it, the UN Security Council will have to face the reality of the crimes.
By Ambassador Muhamed Sacirbey – Follow @MuhamedSacirbey
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