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Document Friday: “This is a MUST READ cable….”

November 6, 2009

Last week, Radovan Karadzic began trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia facing charges of crimes against humanity.  Last month, Peter Galbraith was removed as UN Deputy Special Representative to Afghanistan for his vocal concerns over fraud in the 2009 election.  Today’s “hot doc,” released by the Department of State to Archive analyst William Ferroggiaro on 22 June 2004, features both men.

Sarejevo Burning

A government building in the center of Sarajevo burns after being hit by tank fire during the siege in 1992. Photo by Mikhail Evstafiev.

This 1994 State Department cable, penned by then US Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith, described as “MUST READ” by its cover letter, was disseminated to White House personnel. Galbraith reported that the criteria for genocide, as defined by the Geneva Convention, were being met in the three-party war raging in the former Yugoslavia.

Galbraith’s cable relied predominantly on a 2 February 1994 International Committee of the Red Cross report to recount instances of

  • “constant and indiscriminate shelling and gunfire” of Sarajevo by Karadzic’s Yugoslav People Army;
  • the harassment of minority groups in Northern Bosnia “in an attempt to force them to leave”; and
  • the use of detainees “to do dangerous work on the front lines.”

The report’s cover letter stated that these acts constituted the targeted destruction of a “national, ethnic, racial, or religious group,” and hence met the conditions for genocide; the violence was “not mere political pressure.” Intriguingly, the document does not mention the mass rapes that were also occurring.

NATO forces actively entered the war only three weeks after this report.  In March 1994 the Bosniaks and Croats signed a peace agreement, ending three years of hostilities.  War between Bosniaks and Serbs continued until the terms of the Dayton Peace Agreement were painstakingly negotiated during November 1995.  This report of genocide likely served as a catalyst for the increased international political and military action that ended the conflict.

Finally, this document shows that Galbraith and the State Department under President Clinton viewed the Geneva Convention guidelines as invaluable tools for evaluating and crafting wartime policies, rather than brushing them aside as “vague standards” and unilaterally embracing a “new thinking in the law of war” as did the succeeding administration.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 6, 2009 6:25 pm

    really fascinating …

  2. Wendy Jones permalink
    November 6, 2009 10:08 pm

    One would hope that the impact of Galbraith’s observations in Yugoslavia in 1994 could be replicated in the present Afghanistan conflict.

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