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Thursday, 27 May 1993
Page: 1476

Senator SOWADA —My question without any notice whatsoever is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I refer the Minister to ongoing reports of systematic slaughter, torture, rape, incarceration and other atrocities perpetrated against Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina. What active steps is the Government taking to express its deep concern and distress to NATO, the European Community, the United Nations and the United States about the systematic abuse of human rights in that country? Is the Government prepared to increase its efforts on the ground or actively support any stepped up military action against Bosnian Serbs or will the Government, like the rest of the international community, be wringing its hands in years to come when the full extent of the genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina becomes known?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I would like very much for the Government to be able to do something to relieve the ongoing tragedy in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is exactly as Senator Sowada has described it. It is a disgrace in this day and age that events of this kind should be occurring. There is an awful sense of impotence in the response hitherto of the international community, which we particularly share being as far distant as we are and as manifestly unable as we are to influence a course of events that is unable to be influenced by the combined resources of the European Community, the United States and Russia, all of which have been, as Senator Sowada is well aware, intimately involved in working together to try to find some common ground for a solution.

  The problem has much to do with the nature of the conflict and the terrain in which it is being fought as any absence of will on the part of those countries and the international community to deal with it. I think that needs to be understood in any too-abrupt or cavalier dismissal of the response hitherto of the international community as being inadequate. It is a very different kind of conflict from that which the international community confronted in the Gulf war with a single frontier being invaded. It is a very different kind of conflict even from the one in Somalia, which represented, in effect, the failure of a broken back state and a massive humanitarian intervention being necessary but possible in the particular circumstances.

  It has proved, for practical purposes, impossible to get consensus in a productive way through this dilemma except through the sanctions strategy that is being applied with increased rigour. The current collective strategy which has been agreed to by the so-called P4 and which is currently being further considered by the Security Council does involve at the very least a kind of holding or containing action to try to stop things deteriorating further. As Senator Sowada no doubt will be aware from press reports, it involves the securing of safe areas for Bosnian Muslims by UN forces; the use of air power to support UN forces guarding these areas; monitoring the implementation of Serbia's sanctions against the Bosnian Serbs; and a strong warning to Croatia that it too could face sanctions if it supports Bosnian-Croat attacks on Muslims.

  There are a number of other dimensions to the current argument that is going on. But that is really where we are at at the moment. It is just an attempt at least to stop things getting worse. I am simply not sure how we could contribute to making things actively better. If Senator Sowada has any specific suggestions, I would be delighted to hear them.

  One further thing that has happened in the last 24 hours is that the Security Council has now decided unanimously to establish an international tribunal for the specific purpose of prosecuting people responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia since 1 January 1991. That is an initiative which Australia has strongly supported.

  We will continue to give such weight as we can in international forums of which we are a member to anything that seems to us to be a rational and principled way of moving this issue forward. But at the moment I have to confess that I do not see any easy answers, and certainly not some of the simplistic ones that are being so widely bruited about.