THE war-crimes tribunal under way at The Hague has a tough road ahead. Its charter excludes trials in absentia, and the chances of prompt extradition of indicted figures from the former Yugoslavia are slight. Also, the task of proving a connection between top officials, such as Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, and specific acts of torture and mass murder is difficult.
Not least, the tribunal faces a shortage of money to carry out its work, since its parent organization, the United Nations, is in a budget crisis.
The war-crimes prosecution has managed some initial momentum despite these hurdles. An arrest warrant for one Bosnian Serb suspect, prison camp commander Dragan Nikolic, should come this week. And efforts to gather evidence of more recent crimes, near Srebrenica in northern Bosnia and during the Croat sweep through the Krajina region, have begun. The process of rounding up suspects and witnesses is getting started in Rwanda as well, the tribunal's other mandate.
The momentum must be maintained. Crimes against humanity in Bosnia and Rwanda can't be allowed to go unaddressed. Even if extradition problems block conviction and formal punishment, the tribunal's rules allow for a "Trial Chamber" hearing at which all evidence against the accused can be presented. That, in itself, will serve the cause of justice.
With arrest warrants outstanding, perpetrators will be international pariahs, confined to their own small slice of territory.
The tribunal is another step toward an international system of justice that can deter atrocity. The first steps were taken 40 years ago at Nuremberg and Tokyo. The slow process has to be sustained, and it is not at odds with the work of negotiating a peace in the Balkans or elsewhere. Hopes for lasting peace - in a region or in the world at large - have to be secured on a foundation of justice.
Hopes for lasting peace, in Bosnia or elsewhere, have to rest on a foundation of justice.