Intended for healthcare professionals

Doctors In Conflict

Conflict in Bosnia 1992-3

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 18 December 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:1639
  1. Donald Acheson Sir, chair
  1. International Centre for Health and Society, University College London, London WC1E 6BT

    After retiring as chief medical officer for England in late 1991, Sir Donald Acheson—who describes himself as “intellectually exhausted” at the time—might have been forgiven for looking forward to a relaxing retirement. Instead the WHO Regional Director for Europe, Jo Asvall, persuaded him to go to former Yugoslavia as his special representative. His mission was to evaluate what public health issues were developing in Bosnia, a country newly wracked by war.

    Sir Donald set up an office in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, in July 1992. At the time Zagreb was thought to be much safer than Sarajevo in Bosnia. After the invasion of Croatia by Serbia the year before (which had ended with the Vance-Owen Agreement), Bosnia had become the next scene of unrest. When Sir Donald arrived, Sarajevo, with a mixed population of some 350 000 Serbs, Croats, and Muslims living in relative harmony for hundreds of years, had been under siege for three months.

    Although Sir Donald was horrified by much of what he saw in Bosnia, he was not afraid. Coming as he does from Belfast, he understands the concept of ethnic division, where people who look the same as each other break into warring factions.

    9 July 1992—en route from Copenhagen to Geneva

    On my way to Zagreb as Special Representative of the WHO Regional Director for three months. Am currently in a flight from Copenhagen to Geneva for briefing in both places. The other agencies are UNHCR and Unicef and the International Red Cross. My instructions are to meet the other UN officials and all the health ministers of the new states. But of course the big question is what comes next and whether this is window dressing.

    10 July 1992—Zagreb, Croatia

    The key issues (or a few of them) are:

    1. current state of health: (i) in camps; (ii) in UN protected areas; (iii) in besieged …

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