Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Ashdown Angers Internationals Over Srebrenica Ceremony

Internationals affronted by reported suggestion that only “heavy-hitters” attend massacre commemoration.
By Nerma Jelacic

High Representative Paddy Ashdown is facing further allegations of high-handedness - not from local politicians as has been the norm, but representatives of international organisations working in the region, affronted by his suggestion that some of them should not attend the forthcoming Srebrenica commemoration.

Ashdown chairs the weekly meeting of the Board of Principals, established by the Office of the High Representative in 2002, to serve as the main coordinating body for international community activity in Bosnia. Permanent members of the board are the OHR, the OSCE, EUFOR, UNHCR, EUPM and the European Commission, while institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF and the UNDP regularly attend the meetings, held in Sarajevo.

Several internationals who attended a Board of Principals meeting on June 9 have told IWPR that Ashdown suggested that only international "heavy-hitters" should attend the ceremony, which will be held in Potocari, Srebrenica, on July 11. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the massacre, in which more than 7,000 Bosniak men and boys were shot by Serb troops, over a four-day period following the fall of the UN-protected enclave in July 1995.

Thousands of survivors, families of victims, plus hundreds of press and international representatives are expected to converge on eastern Bosnia for the ceremony. But the high representative appears to have actively discouraged Bosnia-based international representatives from attending. "He said EUFOR, OSCE, EC and other international organisations that have been in the field for years, should not go," said one international official at the June 9 meeting.

"This is not the first time he has brought this up - he also mentioned it in previous meetings," confirmed a second international at the Board of Principals session.

The heavy-hitters are said to include Ashdown himself, the UK foreign secretary Jack Straw and a senior representative of the United Nations. Others were advised at the meeting that they should only attend if they have a "specific reason to do so".

His apparent comments are said to have been prompted by concerns about the logistical support and security for heads of international missions in Bosnia who choose to attend the ceremony, for which security will be organised by the Sarajevo and Banja Luka authorities.

But while many international representatives IWPR spoke to understood his concerns about security and logistics, a number felt he had approached the issue in a high-handed manner. "He is trying to run the international community the same way as he runs Bosnia - like a Raj," said the first IWPR source at the June 9 meeting, invoking a stinging and oft-quoted description of the high representative's methods in a 2003 report by the European Stability Initiative.

Ashdown has no direct authority over members of the Board of Principals, although as chairman he can offer advice. "The problem is that people are too scared to stand up to him, so they tend to treat his advice like an order," said a third international official who attended the Board of Principals session.

The second IWPR source added that Ashdown’s attitude towards the international community is becoming more and more autocratic.

A fourth international official at the June 9 meeting commented, “So they (international community members) have finally spoken out? There have been many conflicts between him [Ashdown] and other foreign diplomats here before. Perhaps it is a bit too late for them to complain now (at the end of his mandate).”

OHR's chief spokesperson, Irena Guzelova, insisted that no one had been discouraged from travelling to Potocare. "We have not been telling people whether or not to attend the ceremony," she said. "A lot of high-level dignitaries will be there and he simply said that it was a matter for individual capitals and embassies to decide who should come."

She refused to confirm or deny whether the high representative had cited security concerns as a reason to keep numbers down. "I will not discuss the ins and outs of what are private meetings," she said.

Nerma Jelacic is IWPR/BIRN country director in Bosnia and Hercegovina.