Never forget, never again? An analysis of how the lessons from the Srebrenica safe area can help us understand the possibilities of safe areas in Syria

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The conflict in Syria, which started in 2011, is one of the largest displacement crises globally. While the crimes that are being committed by different parties have caused international outrage, there appears to be a lack of consent on the right course of action. This thesis analysis the possibilities of one of the proposed measures: the implementation of safe areas. In order to do this, a model is developed based on the lessons that can be learned from the most (in)famous safe area ever implemented: the Srebrenica safe area. The model focuses on the historical context of a conflict, the international considerations for a safe area, the goals and motivations of the local parties involved and their possible willingness to consent to a safe area, and the implementation process which includes choosing a location, creating a credible (military) threat and demilitarizing the safe area. It will become clear that certain aspects of safe areas as originally recorded in the Geneva Convention and the Additional Protocol-‘I’ have been abandoned along the way, especially since the end of the Cold War. While this was already the case in Srebrenica, this thesis shows that safe areas in Syria will be even more difficult to establish, because of both international and local circumstances. The international community appears reluctant to implement measures that require ‘boots on the ground’, and the right to veto that is frequently used in the UNSC has blocked most measures that have been suggested. There seems to be a debate in the UNSC between those countries, like Russia, that support the Assad government and that use the relativist argument of state sovereignty against humanitarian intervention, versus Western countries that use the universalist argument that the international community has the responsibility to protect (R2P) the civilians in Syria. Locally, the large number of parties involved makes it difficult to gain consent for a safe area. Also, the willingness of several parties to use violence against civilians, sometimes not only as a means to another end but also as an end goal, makes that safe areas in Syria would require a large force that has the means and the mandate to use violence in defence of the safe area and themselves, that can call for immediate air support, and that is accompanied by a no-fly zone. The main problem, however, seems to be the need for demilitarization. While it is crucial that a safe area in demilitarized, so as to give the area a civilian character and avoid any tensions created by the continuation of military activity from within the safe area, those inside the safe area will most likely not give up their weapons.
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