Bosnian Serb forces committed wide-scale acts of “barbarism” when they seized the “safe area” of Srebrenica two weeks ago, the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative for human rights in the former Yugoslavia said on Monday.
In a strong statement at a news conference here, the official, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, also warned of atrocities on the same or a larger scale in Zepa, and condemned the international community for not being committed to protecting that safe area, which has been the scene of heavy fighting for more than a week.
Based on interviews with scores of Srebrenica refugees over the last week by a team from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mazowiecki said that civilians had been killed and raped and that people had had their noses and ears cut off.
Mazowiecki’s statement about atrocities was the first by a senior U.N. official based on any investigation of the events surrounding the Serbian conquest of Srebrenica, which was one of three Muslim enclaves in eastern Bosnia.
Speaking about those from Srebrenica who survived, Mazowiecki and other U.N. officials expressed concern about the immediate future of 6,000 who are camped at the air base here. The Bosnian government tried to move them on Friday, but most refused to get on the buses that the government brought to the base. The government is expected to resume removal efforts on Wednesday.
For more permanent settlements for the refugees, the Bosnian authorities have selected villages from which Serbs have been forced to flee in earlier years, international monitors and relief workers said.
“Obviously, this is part of ethnic cleansing,” a U.N. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said of the Bosnian decision on where to move the Srebrenica population. “But it is a sovereign government.” He added that the United Nations felt trapped.
The refugees are also at risk at the air base, because there is a Serbian artillery position on a hilltop within sight of the base.
“If a shell lands at the base, a lot of people will be killed,” said Fernando del Mundo, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Concerning the Bosnian Serb conduct in Srebrenica, Mazowiecki said it constituted “very serious violations of human rights on an enormous scale that can only be described as barbarous.”