Aid Groups Raise Concern About Possible Deployment of Serb Troops to Afghanistan
The IRC and 10 other humanitarian aid and advocacy groups are cautioning against the deployment of forces from Serbia and Montenegro to Afghanistan to serve with NATO or Coalition Forces.
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In a letter sent Tuesday (Nov. 18) to U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson, the groups say the possible deployment in Afghanistan "of representatives of an armed force known for a decade of 'ethnic cleansing' and brutal attacks against unarmed Muslim civilians...raises obvious potential problems."
The letter goes on to say that if Serbia and Montenegro had conducted sweeping reforms of its security services since the ousting of Slobodan Milosevic, then this situation would not be as troubling. "Unfortunately, those who sanctioned the abhorrent policies of the past are still deeply entrenched in both the leadership and the rank and file of the security forces of Serbia and Montenegro," the groups say.
The groups contend that if Serbia and Montenegro's troop offer is accepted, then there must be an open and transparent vetting process to ensure the integrity of the force.
The full text of the letter appears below. For more information, contact Sandra Mitchell, IRC vice president, government relations, sandram@theIRC.org.
Right Honorable Lord Robertson of Port Ellen
Blvd Leopold III
1110 Brussels, Belgium
Donald H. Rumsfeld
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
November 18, 2003
Dear Lord Robertson and Secretary Rumsfeld,
We are writing about the offer by Serbia and Montenegro to send up to 1,000 troops and police to Afghanistan to serve with Coalition Forces as part of Operation Enduring Freedom or with NATO Forces as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The recent history of brutal Serb troop and police actions in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, raise numerous security concerns for the local civilian population, aid workers and troops already on the ground in Afghanistan. We urge you to reconsider any planned deployments of these forces to Afghanistan.
History of Yugoslav troops and police in the Balkans
Well-documented evidence exists of the Yugoslav Army/Serb police practice of using disproportionate and overwhelming force against guerilla targets in civilian areas. Yugoslav soldiers and Serbian police committed grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and other serious violations of international human rights law in the recent wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. As demonstrated in testimony at the war crimes tribunal at The Hague, such violations were frequently the result of well-planned strategies and tactics employed by the Yugoslav/Serbian forces, not simply the actions of rogue officers and soldiers. Only a few weeks ago, the war crimes tribunal in The Hague revealed the indictments of two Serbian police generals and two retired Yugoslav army generals for war crimes against Kosovo Albanians. They included Sreten Lukic, the chief of Serbia's uniformed police and the second highest ranking official in the Ministry of the Interior.
Sensitive nature of deployment
The current military campaign in Afghanistan is aimed at eliminating terrorist cells and does not have a religious character. But the deployment of representatives of an armed force known for a decade of "ethnic cleansing" and brutal attacks against unarmed Muslim civilians and, periodic claims of ethnic and religious superiority, raises obvious potential problems. That troubling legacy would not in and of itself disqualify forces from Serbia and Montenegro from international missions if the government had conducted a wholesale reform of its security services since the ousting of Slobodan Milosevic. Unfortunately, those who sanctioned the abhorrent policies of the past are still deeply entrenched in both the leadership and the rank and file of the security forces of Serbia and Montenegro. There has been very limited housecleaning at all levels and even less evidence of a willingness to take responsibility for past crimes.
If the decision to deploy forces from Serbia-Montenegro moves forward then we strongly recommend the following:
· Open and transparent vetting process
The question has already been raised as to whether troops or officers from Serbia and Montenegro may end up including those who have been involved in committing atrocities against Muslims in the Balkans. While U.S. officials have said that they intend to vet all soldiers and police officers in the all-volunteer force, no further information regarding this process has been made available. This vetting process must be carried out in an open, transparent and ongoing manner to ensure the integrity of the force sent to Afghanistan.
· Open and transparent training curriculum
As any forces deployed will be under the command of the U.S., training programs are being developed for these troops and police. Given the history of military and police tactics and strategies employed systematically by security forces from Serbia and Montenegro in the Balkans, the importance of such retraining cannot be understated. For this reason, we recommend that the training curriculum for all forces deployed from Serbia and Montenegro be open and transparent so as to acquit international concerns about the potential performance of such a force vis-à-vis internationally recognized human rights standards.
With best regards,
Kenneth H. Bacon, President
Nina Bang-Jensen, Exec. Director
Coalition for International Justice
Tineke Ceelen, Director
Mary Diaz, Exec. Director
Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children
Fr. Kenneth Gavin, S.J.
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA
Lavinia Limon, Exec. Director
U.S. Committee for Refugees/IRSA
Joseph S. Roberson, Director
Church World Service Immigration and Refugee Program
Leonard Rubenstein, Exec. Director
Physicians for Human Rights
George Rupp, President
International Rescue Committee
Martin Vulaj, Exec. Director
National Albanian American Council
Stuart Willcuts, CEO
Air Serv International
CC: Mr. Colin Powell, US Secretary of State
Dr. Condoleezza Rice, US National Security Advisor