By Jendry Araya - Student of the School of International Relations
A crime of omission is a conduct that consists in the abstention of an action that constitutes a legal duty, which brings us to one of the reasons why liability for omission has gained importance in international law. (Duttwiler, 2006). After World War II, the international law regarding armed conflicts has greatly demanded that States must protect human rights and human beings at all costs. In this sense, the role of the Security Council in the United Nations is strictly related to this, since this entity is the maximum responsible for maintaining peace and security in the world, in determining the existence of an act that threatens peace. In accordance with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations, the Security Council may impose sanctions or even authorize the use of force to maintain or restore international security.
However, many times in the past the Security Council has failed to deal with conflicts that have threaten the peace and stability of the international community, as was the case in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In regards to this armed conflict in which Serbs and Bosnians faced against each other, and that ended up in genocide, several academics have argued that this could have been avoided, referring to the possibility that the UN, or several of its member States, had information indicating the preparation of the Serbian attack against Srebrenica (epicenter of the conflict). Al Jazeera English, 2018). Whereas, if the United Nations depended on member States and the international community as a whole to obtain this type of information, there was no knowledge about the Serbian offensive. In fact, the lack of an information service, together with the rejection of Member States to share sensitive information with an organization as open and “insecure", from their point of view, such as the UN, is one of the biggest operational failures like those that we find in all our missions.
Kofi Annan, the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations, referring to a similar conflict, the Rwanda Genocide, stated the following:
The international community is guilty of sins of omission. I believed at that time that I was doing my best. But I realized after the genocide that there was more that I could and should have done. This painful memory, along with that of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has influenced much of my thinking, and many of my actions, as Secretary-General. (United Nations Secretary-General, 2004).
Thus, taking into account that omissions hold the subject responsible for the production of a result, as long as it has been placed in a responsible manner in relation to the integrity of others and there is a duty to act in order to avoid that result. Therefore, it can be said that in the Bosnia-Herzegovina case not only Serbia is guilty by omission, but the international community as well as the Security Council, hence, the United Nations.
While it is true that, in the end, the international community decided to respond to the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina with an arms embargo, humanitarian aid and the deployment of a peacekeeping force, it must be clearly stated that such measures were nothing but poor substitutes to avoid the actions that were taking place. Which allowed the Serbs to occupy a position of overwhelming military dominance and deprived the Bosnia-Herzegovina of their right to defend themselves.
Conclusively, the international community must accept its shared responsibility for having allowed the tragic development of events with its prolonged refusal to use force in the early stages of the war. This responsibility is shared with the Security Council, and other governments that contributed to the delay.