There Are No Real ‘Safe Zones’ and There Never Have Been / Foreign Policy

Screen Shot 2014-03-09 at 8.11.09 AMAs you climb the mountains high above Srebrenica, in the far east of Bosnia-Herzegovina, oak and beech trees become mixed with firs, pines, and spruce. It was into this green that Fatima Dautbasic-Klempic ascended in July 1995, fleeing massacres below.

“When we were walking through the mountains, we didn’t know who was alive, dead, or captured, or what happened to anybody,” Dautbasic-Klempic later told a British charity called Remembering Srebrenica. She recalled “dead everywhere, parts of bodies, blood on the buildings around us on the road — everywhere.” Below, 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were being slaughtered that week. Women and girls, while usually spared death, were often raped. And all of this was happening under the watch of a United Nations Protection Force in a so-called safe area.

Srebrenica was one of six such safe areas set up in Bosnia in 1993. From the very beginning, Balkans experts described the plan as a “mockery,” pointing out that the zones would be like prison camps for refugees, easily starved out as food became undeliverable. These were places overcrowded with unarmed civilians, who would be sitting ducks without more protection from U.N. troops, critics worried. “It sounds good — ‘safe areas,’” an American military officer serving in NATO told the New York Times that October. Yet he explained that the peacekeepers “were little more than observers” without enough firepower. “The truth is the safe areas were always a myth.”

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