The Nuremberg Precedent

COUNT 4 of the indictment against the Nazi leaders at the post-World War II Nuremberg trials covered crimes against humanity. It described a horrendous catalog of Nazi crimes and total disregard of the so-called rules of war, of unimaginable cruelty and horror inflicted on civilian populations throughout occupied Europe.

Eleven of the Nazis convicted on Count 4 were hanged.

Reading daily about the worsening horror of Bosnia, Nuremberg comes back to mind. As one who covered the Nuremberg trials in 1946, the parallels are hitting me hard.

A United Nations fact-finding mission to Bosnia in August was headed by Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Poland's first post-communist prime minister. Mr. Mazowiecki is not a man given to hyperbole. But he was so profoundly shocked by the human rights abuses perpetrated on defenseless Muslims by Bosnian Serbs that his report recommended - for the first time in an official UN document - that the guilty should be prosecuted by an international UN tribunal. This week the UN Security Council voted unanimously to set up a

war-crimes commission, the first such commission since Nuremberg.

In 1946, the 10-month war trial was thought to have established an international legal precedent, and maybe a deterrent.

But it has done neither. Instead, the world continues to hold contempt for international law; the human rights of ordinary people continue to be flouted.

For six months Serbs have waged a Hitlerian "total war" against the non-Serbs of Bosnia, their neighbors for 40 peaceful years. Their ambition is a "Greater Serbia" able to dominate the region and its Slav peoples.

The process in Bosnia is virtually complete. The Serbs hold 70 percent of the land in the former republic, where they are 30 percent of the population. They have achieved this through the backing and the heavy weapons of Serbia's Army, also known as the Yugoslav Army.

"Ethnic cleansing" has been their own self-described tactic for the land grab - killing and driving out all non-Serbs.

Systematic terror, gunpoint deportations, hostage-taking even of children and the elderly, looting, burning whole villages, destroying churches and mosques. This has become Bosnia's way of life this year.

It is just as if the Nazis had returned: scenes of burned-out villages and columns of Muslims leaving their homes with a box or a suitcase of the few belongings they were allowed. This is now as common a sight in Bosnia as anywhere in Nazi-occupied Europe.

"After watching films and reading about Hitler for years, it is hard to imagine it is happening in our town," an elderly Banja Luka Muslim told a British journalist. But it is.

Why didn't the West halt the Serbs before they could grab so much territory? What could be clearer than the key principle of the Helsinki Declaration of 1975 - adopted by the UN - about the inviolability of the frontiers of all states in Europe, prohibiting change except by negotiated agreement?

Each day through summer the Serbs made clearer they would not stop their attacks until sure that what they had gained by force could not be lost through negotiations. There is no way now to force them to make even the local Muslim border adjustments promised as a "softener" to the West in last month's London conference on the Yugoslav crisis.

Bosnia is becoming a victim of Western appeasement, just as Czechoslovakia was in 1938.

After Nuremberg, President Harry Truman approved a proposal by the United States representatives on the tribunal that the UN draft a code of international criminal law. But it was never done. Perhaps the international community should now give it thought.

In the meantime, nothing since the London talks offers any hope for Bosnia. On the contrary, Serbia is resettling Serbs in the houses left by Bosnia's 1 million Muslim and other non-Serb expellees (Croats and Jews alike).

The plans include augmenting the small Serb minority currently ruling Albanian Kosovo. That strategy is capable of triggering not just a local explosion, but setting the whole Balkans alight.

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