Interview with Francis Boyle



Interview with Francis Boyle, 11-12-2013 on Bosnian “Peace” Negotiations

Professor Francis Boyle is General Agent for the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina before the International Court of Justice with Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Powers and the member of the International Expert Team of the Institute for Research of Genocide, Canada

On behalf of the victims of the aggression against Bosnia and Herzegovina and genocide against its citizens, and Institute for Research of Genocide, Canada thank you Professor Boyle for your contribution to the truth about these crimes and justice for the victims of these crimes.

CB: What I got form 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, despite the attempts by the entire world to destroy that state.

CB: As you said, V-O specifically tried to prevent Bosnia’s partition …

FB: It was not a partition, that is correct. It would have cantonised Bosnia along the lines of Lebanon and perhaps it would have paralysed that state. Indeed, in the Dayton Agreement, basically what Holbrooke did was apply V-O to the Federation and then de facto carve up the rest of it. That is why even the Federation itself has a hard time working. It is pretty much the cantonisation of the V-O scheme, based on the Lebanon scheme of Vance, that many of Vance’s advisers had worked with him on in Lebanon. That pretty much paralysed Lebanon during the civil war. But the critical factor was to keep the state. A second point to keep in mind is that V-O also served as the green light for Croatia and president Tudjman to invade the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina and commence his campaign of ethnic cleansing in western Bosnia, in those areas that were allocated to the Bosnian Croats under Vance-Owen. That is not just my interpretation. That was the interpretation of the ICTY. I was contacted by them and asked to serve as their expert in the prosecution of Blaskic on all these peace plans which I agreed to do. Their working theory of the case was that V-O really gave Tudjman the green light to cease and steal those areas of Bosnia that had been allocated to the Bosnian Croats. I think that is also a correct interpretation of the situation. I don’t know if that was Vance’s intention, but certainly that is the way Tudjman saw it.

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.

CB: Officially V and O drew their lines not on the basis of ethnicity, expressing the wish to create multi-ethnic cantons. But if you look at the map, ethnicity does come into play …

FB: It certainly came into play. There is no question about it. What they said in public was one thing; what they did in private was another. We have to understand that between Vance and Owen, it was Vance running the show. Owen just sort of went along for the ride. Later, with Owen-Stoltenberg, Vance resigned because that was real dirty work and he didn’t want anything to do with it. At that point, Owen was running the show. This was really Vance and his people … Again, I am not here to criticise Vance. I think he figured that that was the best he could do under these circumstances. I don’t know what to say about that.

CB: What made them revert to and accept this ethnic separation of Bosnia?

FB: I guess Vance figured it sort of worked in Lebanon, so he would try it in Bosnia. But again, I can only read Vance’s mind and the document, because I never discussed it with Vance. President Izetbegovic dealt with Vance. I was outside the room, listening to the negotiations. I wasn’t in the room with Vance. I was advising the President on elements of the plan and what the consequences might be. That the consequences could be that you would have a government that is paralysed, as did happen in Lebanon, although the state would still be preserved. As far as President Izetbegovic saw it, preserving the state was the most important factor here.


CB: What I try to get at is how in this case Vance and Owen came to that decision.

FB: As I said, I think it was primarily Vance. He was running the show. That was clear. He was the de facto representative of the US Government. Everyone knew that. Even though he technically represented the United Nations, everyone knew that Vance was there speaking pretty much on behalf of the US Government. He had been former Secretary of State. That’s the way people looked at Vance, that he had the backing of the US Government behind him. Of course Vance never said that, to the best of my knowledge, but that is the way people looked at Vance.

CB: You mentioned that he took a lot of the negotiators that he worked with in Lebanon with him to Bosnia. Would you be able to remember any of the names of those people?

FB: I can’t remember. You’d have to research that. But I think he had some of the same staff working with him on Lebanon. […]

CB: And after the VO plan had been rejected, you got Stoltenberg and Owen …

FB: What happened then was this: Bill Clinton in his 1992 campaign for the Presidency … In order to get votes, he 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 and blowing the hell out of them, which you could watch live on CNN. 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. Everyone knows that Karadzic was a puppet for Milosevic, so Milosevic could have been using Karadzic as a cat’s paw here to say they were rejecting V-O. What Milosevic really wanted was the agreement he had with Tudjman in 1991 to split Bosnia between the two of them. He wanted half of Bosnia. My guess is that Milosevic was just using Karadzic as a cat’s paw. Rather than rejecting V-O himself, he had Karadzic reject it.

CB: Do you think that at that point in time, the international negotiators were also convinced that territorial separation between the ethnic communities was necessary for peace in Bosnia?

FB: That is not the way Vance saw it, no.


The Europeans, like Owen and the rest of them, would have been happy to see Bosnia carved up, but I don’t believe that that was the position of Vance because if you read the V-O plan, it cantonised Bosnia but it didn’t carve us up.


When it became clear that there would be no lift and strike, no enforcement of the World Court order, Vance resigned, turning the thing over to Owen because the next stage was to destroy the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a state. Vance knew it. He knew this was a real piece of dirty work and he didn’t want his good name associated with that. I am not here to support Vance, I am just trying to give you my assessment of the situation. David Owen, or actually the entire European Union, came in, and took over the show. He recruited Stoltenberg from Norway because he knew the Nobel Peace Prize came out of Norway. So he figured that if he would have Stoltenberg on his team and he produced a deal, that would give him the inside track on the Nobel Peace Prize. I dealt personally with Owen and Stoltenberg and Stoltenberg was just a ‘yes’-man and a boot licker. All the decisions were being made by David Owen.


Europe just did not want a Muslim state in Europe. It was that simple. It went back to the crusades.


This has to do with anti-Muslim prejudice in Europe going back to the crusades, at least. At that time, before 9/11 2001, we really didn’t have that in the United States. We didn’t have experience with the crusades and all the rest of that. But eventually, Clinton would go along with a carve-up too.


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: Why do you think that O and S were not susceptible to these ideas? Is there something in their background or in their way of thinking that disallowed them to think in these lines?

FB: Yeah, I dealt personally with David Owen. He is a typical British, imperialist, establishment, racist individual who believed Muslims were an inferior race of people. We were just supposed to do what he told us to do. I made it clear that that was not going to happen on my watch.

CB: And there was consensus on that within their negotiation team?

FB: It was Owen running the show. Stoltenberg just sat there and didn’t say anything and Szasz carried out Owen’s instructions. So he was running the show. That was the team: David Owen. He had full power from the members of the EU to do this, to get rid of Bosnia. That was the plan of the British Government at the time, under John Major and all the Torries. All except Margaret Thatcher, who supported us, but she was out of power.

CB: So there wasn’t a team of civil servants working with them? It was only the three of them?

FB: Well, Owen also had the entire British secret service up there in Geneva, following our every move and tapping our phone calls. But the key operatives are the people I told you: Owen, Stoltenberg and their lawyer Szasz. I dealt with all three of them. Owen, it was clear … You know, when he was in the negotiations, he didn’t even pay attention to Stoltenberg. Stoltenberg was just there for the show because Owen was hoping, if he got the deal, that if Stoltenberg was there he could get the Nobel Peace Prize. That’s all Stoltenberg was there for. But technically, Stoltenberg was representing the UN. He should have stood up for all the member states and our existence, but he didn’t. He went along with it.

CB: You mentioned that your critique and the World Court orders did not really influence O and S, that they stuck with their plan and could not change it into a Swiss model like the one that you proposed …

FB: After the second World Court order […] Owen had pretty much been discredited. That then is why President Clinton turned to Kooijmans to spearhead the next peace plan, which was the Contact Group Plan, which was a reformulation of O-S.

CB: Did you find support for your ideas or for your alternative among any international diplomats? Were people susceptible to look at these alternatives?

FB: The entire world was against us, including the US Government. Warren Christopher called up the Turkish Ambassador and told him to tell President Izetbegovic to sit on me. That’s how spineless Warren Christopher was. Of course, the President wasn’t going to do that, because he knew that I was helping to keep Bosnia alive. The whole world … Look, Bosnia was sent up to Geneva in late July-early August 1993 to be destroyed and everyone knew it. They all knew it. Everyone. The US knew it; that’s why the Foreign Service officers quit. The US supported it, Europe supported it, the European Union supported it. I had a meeting with most of the Muslim ambassadors in Geneva and I briefed them on it. They knew it. One of them said to me ‘What can we do about it?’ We were abandoned and betrayed by all of Europe and the US and in the Muslim world there wasn’t much that they could do about it because we were there in the heart of Europe.

CB: So as far as you know, no alternatives – not towards Bosnian unity but also not towards really splitting the country up with an international border – were discussed by these teams?

FB: We were given a dictat, just like Hitler, take it or leave it.

CB: And amongst themselves, before presenting it to the Bosnians?

FB: I can’t say amongst themselves. I wasn’t part of their team. I can only say that … We did get a first O-S draft, which I didn’t analyse, but the second draft – that was the operative document – was clearly genocidal.

CB: Would you happen to still have that first version?

FB: I do, but these are all confidential documents. I really can’t give them out.

CB: Can you give me information on what the differences were between the first and the second draft?

FB: I never got to them, because in about 20 minutes they showed up saying ‘There is a new document. Karadzic just showed up and this is the one that we are dealing with’. It was by then 7 at night and I needed to have my analysis by 8 am the next morning. I spent the whole night analysing the […] second draft. I never looked at the first draft. I never had a chance.


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.

CB: And would you say, looking back, that the international negotiators saw ethnicity as an unchangeable human trait that was necessarily going to lead to conflict in the case of Bosnia?

FB: They just wanted to carve us up and get rid of us because we were an annoyance to the European and the Americans. We were creating lot of problems for them. As Clinton said when he refused to lift and strike, he said, quote ‘I have bigger fish to fry with the Europeans’ end quote. When you add in Europe the blatant anti-Muslim attitude that most Europeans had going back to the crusades, that can probably account for it. Here in the US, certainly prior to September 11, 2001, there wasn’t a great deal of anti-Muslims hysteria. Now there is, but back in those days, there wasn’t. But you know, the Bosnians, we would stand up and fight for our existence. We would not give in. This was an irritant for them.

CB: But if Bosnia was an annoyance, why would that make them want to carve it up?

FB: To get rid of us; to solve the problem. If you would get rid of Bosnia as a state … if it were carve it up between Croatia and Serbia, there is no annoyance anymore except you accept the massacres. That was that.

Francis A. Boyle
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