Bosnia genocide unrolls in scroll of shame


Radovan Karadzic has been arrested. He faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity before the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague. It’s an occasion to recall the genocide in Bosnia and the shame of those who did not prevent it.

When Yugoslavia broke up into its constituent nations in the early 1990s, Yugoslav Communist Party leader Slobodan Milosevic reinvented himself as a Serbian nationalist. He called on all the Serbs in Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia to form a single state. In Karadzic, he found a willing henchman.

Karadzic was the leader of the Bosnian Serbs. Until the war, Bosnia was an ethnically mixed state of Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims. Karadzic’s mission was to create an ethnically pure Serbian space in eastern Bosnia that could be assimilated into a “greater Serbia.” In the war that followed, the euphemism “ethnic cleansing” entered the unholy vocabulary of genocide.

The war raged from 1992 to 1995. It was an ethnic war; a religious war; a war against people, property and culture; a war of irredentism; a war of savagery and barbarism; a war of shame.

First in the scroll of shame are the Serbs themselves. While not alone in perpetrating war crimes in Bosnia, they excelled. They let themselves be swept up in the spirit of fascism.

In Bosnia, they murdered and destroyed like beasts. In Serbia, they cheered. The voices in opposition were too quiet, too few.

Even today, too many Serbs regard Karadzic, Milosevic and his military commander, Ratko Mladic, as heroes instead of war criminals. Many greeted the capture of Karadzic with dismay. He might be free still, were his dispatch to The Hague not a condition for Serbia’s accession to the European Union.

Shame on the United Nations. When the war began, it imposed an arms embargo on all sides to the Bosnian war. The Bosnian Serbs continued to receive arms from the Yugoslav army. The Bosnian Muslims had nothing. Thus, the United Nations did not merely equate the aggressors with the victims it favored the aggressors in the guise of evenhandedness.

The Bosnian genocide included the murder of some 7,000-8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica by Serb forces. Despite the fact that Srebrenica was a U.N.-designated “safe area,” Dutch peacekeepers stood aside and did nothing to protect the Bosnian Muslims from the Serbs.

Shame on America. President George H.W. Bush did nothing to intervene. During the 1992 campaign, candidate Bill Clinton criticized Bush for his inaction. Then Clinton was elected and did nothing. A stream of excuses poured out of Washington, while the agony of the Bosnian Muslims went on.

When Clinton was finally roused to action, two weeks of bombing brought Serb aggression to an end. This showed how heart-rendingly easy it would have been for earlier intervention to save scores of thousands of lives.

Shame on NATO. For over a decade, while it patrolled Bosnia after the war, it failed to arrest the indicted Karadzic. At various times, his location was known, but the political will to seize him was missing. It is even said that the NATO powers quietly agreed to let him be, fearful of the repercussions.

Shame on the Jews? It is possible that the Jews have the least reason to be ashamed. When there were rallies and protests to support the Bosnian Muslims, Jews were in the forefront. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut was a leader in the Senate effort to end the U.S. arms embargo against Bosnia.

At the 1993 dedication of the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel turned to President Clinton and said, “Mr. President, I cannot not tell you something. I have been in the former Yugoslavia last fall. I cannot sleep since for what I have seen. As a Jew, I am saying that we must do something to stop the bloodshed in that country. People fight each other, and children die. Why? Something, anything must be done.”

Putting war criminals on trial doesn’t bring anyone back to life, doesn’t return a single refugee to his home. Evil must be fought before the thousands or the millions die, not merely deplored or put on trial afterward. If we don’t really believe this, we should stop saying, “Never again.”

Paul Kujawsky is a member of the board of directors of Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles. He can be reached at kujawsky@pacbell.net.

Milosevic in The Hague


"A triumph for the civilized world." So characterized The New York Times about the war crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic that started this past week in The Hague.

Certainly there is cause in the international legal community for such triumphalist sentiment. When the United Nations Security Council created the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in 1993, few could have possibly foreseen that Milosevic would ever stand trial.

As Richard Dicker, a lawyer for Human Rights Watch, put it: "When I was here in 1996, it was derided as the international tribunal for small fry. Tomorrow the biggest fish of them all goes on trial."

Yet in trying the "biggest fish," the tribunal also faces several risks. A first set of concerns involves the nature of the charges and the character of the defendant.

The political thinker Otto Kirchheimer argued that all trials, at least those that are fairly conducted, must be characterized by an "irreducible risk" — the chance that the prosecution will fail to shoulder its burden of proving guilt, and that the accused will consequently be acquitted. In the case of Milosevic’s trial, this risk is not entirely negligible.

Proof that might be persuasive to a historian or neutral observer might run afoul of the court’s rules of evidence. However else one might characterize Milosevic, none gainsay his cunning, and to create a legally compelling case against him will require both a solid prosecutorial strategy and acts of great courage on the part of witnesses called to testify against their former president.

But even if Milosevic should be convicted, the trial could founder in other respects. Spectacular trials of international crimes — such as the Nuremberg, Eichmann and, now, Milosevic trials — are inevitably asked to do more than simply render justice to the accused in a conventional legal sense.

These trials are asked to clarify the historical record and to demonstrate to the world community the sober and grand neutrality of the law. In his self-pitying, yet intelligently prepared, harangues before the tribunal, Milosevic threatens these aims.

The trial promises to be long — lasting for two years, by most estimates — and the court will have to work hard to make sure that Milosevic’s attacks on its jurisdiction and self-serving presentation of history do not end up hijacking the didactic aims of the trial.

A second set of concerns implicates the larger trend of judging international politics by the standards of criminal law. Until Nuremberg, the notion that a statesman could be treated as a criminal in international law was unthinkable.

The act of state doctrine and the principle of sovereign immunity — basic norms of international diplomacy and law — barred foreign courts from subjecting independent states and their representatives to criminal proceedings. This arrangement long left international criminal law something of an oxymoron. A nation found in violation of an international convention could be punished — but only collectively through the kind of reparations disastrously imposed upon Germany following its defeat in World War I.

Nuremberg changed much of this. The charter of the ground-breaking trial of Hermann Göring and other leading Nazi functionaries adopted the radical idea that statesmen could be held personally responsible for the criminal acts of their regime, even acts committed against their own domestic population.

For years, however, Nuremberg’s legacy remained more conceptual than practical. Decades of Cold War struggle cynically cast international law as a partisan tool of geopolitics, to be championed when advantageous and ignored when not. Only with the explosion of regional violence unleashed by the demise of the Cold War’s strategic equipoise has the world community rededicated itself to the enforcement of international criminal law.

The trial of Milosevic stands as the greatest achievement of this redoubled commitment. Unfortunately, some international legal activists have aggressively sought to push the Milosevic precedent in directions that are far from salutary.

In Belgium, a nation that has adopted a remarkably liberal approach to matters of jurisdiction, legal groups have prepared cases against everyone from Ariel Sharon to Yasser Arafat and Fidel Castro. And no less a writer than Christopher Hitchens has passionately argued in favor of trying Henry Kissinger as a war criminal.

These agitations, however well-meaning, are to be regretted. For better or worse, the law is not generally concerned with political complexity; it remains oblivious to the nuances of diplomacy and realpolitik and cares only that violators of its norms receive punishment.

Long after emerging as a suspect in international crimes, Milosevic apparently received personal calls from President Bill Clinton, the tenor of which was intimate, and, on the Serb’s part, avuncular. To the legal crusader, this no doubt stands as an odious example of Clinton’s spineless kowtowing to an international thug; to others, however, it signals a politically sensitive gesture to prod a bellicose foreign leader to respect a precarious peace (in this case, the Dayton Accords).

In this regard, of equal importance to the future of international law as the opening of the Milosevic trial was the recent decision (Feb. 14) handed down by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), also housed in The Hague, though institutionally autonomous from the Milosevic tribunal. In a case involving an arrest warrant issued by a Belgium magistrate for Aboulay Yerodia Ndombasi, the Congolese foreign minister at the time of the warrant’s issuance, the ICJ concluded that serving statesmen were shielded from criminal prosecution in foreign national courts.

On first blush, this decision seems to contradict the spirit of the Milosevic trial: it appears to defend the very prerogatives of statesmen that have long permitted them to flaunt international law with impunity. But in fact, the decision simply places a necessary corrective on the agitations of overzealous international lawyers, a corrective that points international law in a direction both practical and wise.

The decision, which effectively ends any effort to put Sharon on trial in Belgium, guarantees that international law is not turned into the mouthpiece of global political grievance. By limiting the opportunities to turn the law into an all-purpose tool of political harassment, the ICJ has properly increased the likelihood that international trials will be reserved for the perpetrators of only the most extreme abuses and atrocities. In so doing, it has preserved and enhanced the ultimate efficacy of international justice.

The trial of Milosevic goes forward, but not that of Sharon. And so it should be. To treat Sharon as a Milosevic would not demonstrate that such law binds the strong as well as the weak, the triumphant as well as the conquered. It would simply demonstrate that a fervid breed of legal crusaders had placed diplomacy under the majestic tyranny of the law.

+