Prof. Francis Boyle Interviewed About His Involvement in the Negotiations to End the War in Bosnia by the Institute for Research of Genocide, Canada (November 12, 2013)

These are excerpts from an interview with REEEC faculty affiliate Francis Boyle (College of Law), which was published on the website of the Institute for Research of Genocide, Canada. To read the  complete and original interview, please click here:


Prof. Francis Boyle

Prof. Francis Boyle

CB: What I got from your background is that before you entered the negotiation, you were active in academics and law. You worked for the PLO and you were involved in the peace negotiations there but also you worked for the International Tribunal for Indigenous Peoples. In what ways would you say that your past experience influenced your work in the Bosnian negotiations?

FB: When the war and genocide against Bosnia started, shortly after its declaration of independence on March 6, 1992, I was serving as legal adviser to the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace negotiations. I had overwhelming responsibilities there, so I really could not do anything to help the Bosnians although I did monitor the situation. In the late summer, early fall of 1992, the chair of the Palestinian delegation, Doctor Haidar Abdul Shaffi asked me to draft the Palestinian counteroffer of what later became the Oslo Agreement. The whole fall was taken up by that matter … Finally, I summited that counteroffer to the Palestinian delegation in Washington and the PLO leadership in Tunis and President Arafat and then the peace negotiations broke down. It was early December 1992 when Israel deported some Muslims from Gaza into Lebanon. At that point, there was nothing more for me to do. I felt terrible about the situation of the Bosnians. I did some research on the matter and I sent them a memorandum of law, it was mid-December 1992, recommending that they sue Yugoslavia, Russia, Britain, France at the International Court of Justice for violating the Genocide Convention and that we ask for an emergency special hearing of the World Court, where I would get an indication of provisional measures of protection for Bosnia against Serbian acts of genocide. I would try to break the genocidal arms embargo that had been legally imposed on Bosnia and try to stop the carve-up of Bosnia pursued by the Vance-Owen plan. To make a long story short, on March 6, 1993, I had a 45 min-conversation with the Bosnian vice-president and I could hear the artillery shells going off in the background; it was surreal … We went through the whole law suit and my strategy. At the end of it, he said he would recommend this law suit to President Izetbegovic and that I should go out to meet him the following week for the start of the Vance-Owen negotiations. I spent the next week drafting the application for Bosnia against Yugoslavia for genocide … and also Bosnia’s indication for provisional measures at the emergency hearing. That took a week. Then I flew out to New York to be with Izetbegovic for the V-O negotiations. I advised him on V-O. Then I went through the law suit with President Izetbegovic. I went through my strategy and approach … Then he signed a full-powers for me appointing me as Bosnia’s General Agent with Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Powers before the World Court with instructions to sue Yugoslavia … That was the start of my involvement in Bosnia.

CB: At that point, what did you identify as the main issue to be addressed in the conflict? Was that ethnicity or nationalism, or socio-economic problems? What was going on in Bosnia according to you?

FB: It was outright genocide by Yugoslavia and Milosevic against the Bosnians. They proclaimed independence as was requested by the European Union. The EU put out guidelines and said to Bosnia and Croatia that they needed to have elections. They had elections and they voted for independence and they were hit with genocide and aggression. Again, when that happened on March 6, 1992, there was nothing I could do to help them but a year later, I was in a position to help them.

CB: Was that genocide caused by ancient hatred between the ethnic communities, as some would argue?

FB: It had nothing to do with ancient hatred. It was Milosevic using nationalism to steal land and ethnically cleanse the Muslims and Croats who were living there, as well as Jews. There was no hatred by the Bosnian Muslims against Serbia or Yugoslavia or the Bosnian Croats or the Bosnian Jews. It was Milosevic exploiting nationalism and ethnicity and religion to accomplish his objective of Greater Serbia. Just like Hitler wanted Lebensraum to the east, Milosevic wanted Lebensraum to the west. He was using all that and exploiting it.

CB: At the time of the Vance-Owen negotiations, the Carrington Plan, which proposed a loose federation of states in which the ethnic communities would be protected by minority rights, and the Cutileiro Plan that divided the country into three ethnic units had been rejected. Were you aware of those plans?

FB: I was aware of Cutileiro beforehand, but that was before I came in. I came in at V-O. That’s where I got involved … V-O had a lot of problems, as far as I could tell. It would have cantonised Bosnia along the lines of the work that Vance had done in Lebanon. Vance had been involved in the Lebanon negotiations too and he basically came up with a plan there to cantonise Lebanon. It didn’t seem to work very well in Lebanon but I gave the President my best assessment of the situation and made it clear that the state would still be there. When I got to the World Court, Yugoslavia’s lawyer argued that V-O had put us out of business as a state. As I correctly pointed out to the World Court, and they agreed with me, all V-O called for was an internal reorganisation of our state and at that point in time, Izetbegovic accepted it because it would preserve the state. He was willing to make compromises. His most important concern was to preserve the state. It was Karadzic who rejected V-O. The World Court agreed with my interpretation of V-O that it was simply a plan for an internal reorganisation of the Bosnian state. What was most critical for President Izetbegovic and for me was to keep the state intact; that at the end of the day, there would still be a state of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which there still is today, 20 years later …

CB: In the reasoning behind this solution by V-O, you mentioned Vance’s history in Lebanon. Do you think there are certain characteristics or that there is something in their professional background that made them likely to opt for the V-O territorial solution? For example, they had a history in Rhodesia, but also a lot more international negotiators came in at this stage so perhaps there was a focus on the international system rather than on national states. Do you think anything like that mattered?

FB: As I said, I think in trying to be fair to Vance, who is now deceased, Vance was involved in the Lebanon peace negotiations, which I had studied. Lebanon was a multi-ethnic, multi-religious state. I think that he figured … not that I discussed it with him, but I think that he and his people figured that they could take the cantonisation scheme from Lebanon and apply it to Bosnia. That was my assessment. That is certainly what I had advised President Izetbegovic. It was the President’s decision, however. I did not advise the President whether or not to accept V-O. That was not for me to decide as I saw it, as long as it preserved the state. It was the President’s decision to accept V-O. He did because it would have preserved the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina despite the cantonisation.

FB: Bill Clinton in his 1992 campaign for the Presidency … said that if he were elected, his policy would be ‘lift end strike’ for Bosnia. He would lift the genocidal arms embargo that had been illegally imposed on the Bosnians, and then he would strike by air the Serbian Yugoslav artillery positions surrounding all the Bosnian cities … So President Izetbegovic accepted V-O on that assumption, that if it had been rejected by Milosevic or Karadzic, that Clinton was going to go forward with him promise and lift and strike. So what happened was, the President accepted V-O. I argued successfully to the World Court that V-O did not terminate our existence as a state but that the republic would continue. Then Milosevic did accept V-O and Karadzic rejected it …

CB: By the time the Owen-Stoltenberg proposal was on the table, did you think it was possible for the ethnic problems to be overcome by reconciliation or did you deem it necessary to separate the ethnic communities?

FB: I agree fully with President Izetbegovic. I was instructed and authorised to negotiate a Switzerland for Bosnia … It works. It is a great success. What would have been wrong with a Switzerland for Bosnia? That was the impetus behind that Union of Republics, the idea to negotiate a Switzerland for Bosnia. I felt, certainly at the time, that if there had been good faith on the part of O and S, which there was not, we could have negotiated a Switzerland that would have preserved Bosnia as a state and protected the rights of all the ethnic groups in Bosnia, but it was not to be.

CB: Clearly, from day one the international community tried to split the state internally. Do you know if any other borders than ethnic borders were considered?

FB: That’s what happened when we got to Dayton. The first draft of Dayton, by Richard Holbrooke, which I read, would have been a de jure carve-up of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina into two states, two mini-states; the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Republic of Srpska. I did point this out to President Izetbegovic and to his credit, he insisted on the preservation of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a single state so this became a de facto carve-up but not a de jure carve-up, which is what we have today.

It is kind of pathetic, isn’t it? That the fate of an entire state and 4.5 million people are in the hands of four or five men, yet that is what happened.

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