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War Crimes: Time to Arrest
Karadzic and Mladice



LONDON-- After a difficult and slow start the United Nations war crimes tribunals are hitting their stride. The new UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, has purged the incompetents at the Arusha, Tanzania, tribunal and we can expect it now to move more rapidly in bringing to trial the suspects it has in detention, accused mass-murderers from Rwanda.

In The Hague this week the trial of three Muslims and a Croat began, accused of war crimes against Serbs at a prison camp in 1992. 74 men have been indicted so far, most of them Serbian.

This is all progress, the first faltering steps of a new responsibility for the international community--the extension of the rule of law to the battlefield and its aftermath. Unlike Nuremberg and the Tokyo trials following World War 2 that were wrapped up as soon as their business was complete, there is now a very tangible sense that these new institutions and procedures are an ongoing and natural evolution of the world's growing sense of a common humanity and the need to apply the law as a weapon against violence and mayhem.

The quest for civilization has been a long one but this is one small but significant sign that we are heading in the right direction. But the pace needs to be quickened. This is very much like riding a bicycle. If we allow it to slow down we'll fall off. The Dayton peace agreement that brought a negotiated settlement to the war in Bosnia was very specific--the leaders and not the followers were to be those who should take the real rap. Yet indicted Bosnian Serb war leader, Radovan Karadzic and his military commander, General Ratko Mladic walk free. Slobodan Milosevic, who started the war, remains in power as president of Serbia despite street protests, despite sanctions and lives to twist the ambiguity of his situation to strike business deals with the likes of Douglas Hurd on behalf of the National Westminster Bank who, until recently, as British foreign secretary, was supposed to be attempting to be Milosevic's official nemesis.

Without the application in full of the Dayton accords there is a grave danger that cynicism and stalemate will get the better of optimism and progress, leaving the international community with less than it had before it established the war crimes tribunal and with the states of ex-Yugoslavia themselves unpurged of their most murderous elements. This cannot be gainsaid. Nevertheless, there is another argument. If the objective of international intervention in ex- Yugoslavia is to stop the fighting, won't an attempt to arrest the warlords re-ignite the still smouldering fires?

The answer lies in the timing. Done too fast the answer would probably have been yes. Done later this year, probably no. Who would have thought that General Manuel Antonio Noriega in Panama would have submitted to arrest and trial in the U.S.? Those that knew him best thought that his response to the American invasion would be to take to the jungle, blow a hole in the Gatun dam and drain the Panama Canal. President George Bush's sense of timing was impeccable.

There will be, if ex-Yugoslavia gets through this summer without a renewal of serious violence, when winter returns and the sanctions are still biting, the economy remains moribund and the future grimly bleak, and the blood is, at last, beginning to cool, a window of opportunity when a quick surprise commando job could probably remove Karadzic and Mladic without great upheaval or serious repercussion. There's plenty of time to plan, reconnoitre and exercise for it.

Periodic, fratricidal violence, is the Balkans' historical lot. But there always have been lulls once enough blood has been shed and people feel the necessity to get their lives back in order, rather than engage in perpetual disorder. The grudges, of course, will live on. Honor and pride will be fought over by a later generation when the romanticism of ultra-patriotism is no longer actively countered by the price in blood and destruction now being paid today.

It is important to get all this right for off-stage another debate is simmering--the idea of a permanent international criminal court. The homework for it has been done over many years. If the political will were there it could be set up fairly quickly. For the moment it is tied up in the labyrinth of the UN's Sixth Committee, sniped at on one side by China and India and, on the other, by the U.S. Late last year President Bill Clinton gave his endorsement to the idea of the court. But in practice American diplomats are trying to weaken the proposed court's independence by demanding that it be under the authority of the Security Council.

Already the draft is too weak, permitting the court, unlike the present tribunals for ex-Yugoslavia and Rwanda, to take jurisdiction only once a defendant's own national courts prove unable or unwilling to try a case.

To the dispassionate observer the development of international law in the second half of the twentieth century is one of the outstanding achievements of our age. But the dispassionate observers are few and the critics and cynics all too many.


March 12, 1997, LONDON

Copyright © 1997 By JONATHAN POWER

Note: I can be reached by phone +44 385 351172
and e-mail: JonatPower@aol.com












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