Opening the docket: trials of a war tribunal
Prosecuting the masters of war in former Yugoslavia means going after the same leaders the big powers must engage for peace
UNITED States Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith recently drew thunderous applause by promising in a speech here that those who inspired and directed Europe's worst bloodshed since World War II would be brought to justice.Skip to next paragraph
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``Some have suggested there might be a compromise as part of a settlement in Bosnia, that there might be an amnesty for war criminals,'' he said. ``We may in Bosnia have to negotiate with war criminals. But we are not going to amnesty them.''
Speaking just hours after it held its first hearing in The Hague on Nov. 8, Mr. Galbraith asserted that the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal in Former Yugoslavia was ``going to go right to the top.''
But going after the main perpetrators raises a fundamental question of political will: Are the governments that control the UN really intent on prosecuting those leaders they need for making and keeping a Yugoslav peace accord?
For international decisionmakers, the dilemma transcends the former Yugoslavia and strikes directly at whether the great powers can deliver a promised 21st-century world order based on high moral principles. Or will they remain wedded to Machiavellian expediency that puts the ``national interest'' above all else?
``Governments are still playing the 19th-century game of Realpolitik, and people today throughout the world want to have a moral-ethical basis in international relations,'' says Cherif Bassiouni, a law professor at Depaul University in Chicago, who led a UN commission of experts in the first Yugoslav war crimes inquiries.
The dilemma also raises the issue of deterrence and whether leaders contemplating potentially bloody international adventures believe they can escape accountability.
For Richard Goldstone, the South African judge appointed as chief UN prosecutor, all that matters is the UN Security Council mandate to prosecute those responsible for inspiring, ordering, and committing mass ``ethnic cleansing,'' rapes, executions, torture, and other crimes against humanity.
``We are fact-driven. The effect [prosecutions] may or may not have on the political process is not for us to decide,'' Mr. Goldstone said in a telephone interview. ``You can assume that if there aren't indictments against people in senior positions, it's because we don't have sufficient evidence. If we get sufficient evidence, then people will be indicted.''
But another tribunal official, speaking on condition of anonymity, admitted political priorities could take precedence.
``The prosecutors will go as far and as high in the chain of command as the evidence leads them. If they [politicians] want one day to take the decision that they [the prosecutions] have gone too far, they have the freedom to do that,'' he said. ``They made the decision to set up the tribunal. They can close it.''
Unlike the Nazi leaders tried almost 50 years ago at Nuremberg by the Allies who arrested them in the defeat and occupation of Germany, those who presided over the Yugoslav tragedy are still in power, continuing to issue orders to subordinates who remain at large.
Peace and prosecuting
International mediators argue that absent foreign military intervention, peace depends on these leaders, whatever their roles in the slaughter that has left more than 250,000 dead in Croatia and Bosnia since 1991.
For this reason, these men have been enlisted in the peace process, especially Serbia's President Slobodan Milosevic, widely seen as the man behind Bosnian and Croatian Serbs' ethnic cleansing drives to create a ``Greater Serbia.''
Mr. Milosevic, along with Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, and his military chief, Ratko Mladic, was included on a US list of suspected war criminals in 1992.
But he has now become the linchpin of an international strategy that relies on him to coerce the Bosnian Serbs and Croatian Serbs into accepting peace in return for the lifting of UN sanctions imposed against Serbia in 1992.
Furthermore, the Yugoslav crisis ``containment'' policies of Britain, France, and Russia hold that only a strong Serbia, with Milosevic at the helm, can ensure lasting regional stability.