Justice Despite Obstacles

International efforts to mete out justice to individuals who commit crimes against humanity need to be sustained, no matter how difficult the obstacles. To give up is to invite more such crimes.

That's why the pursuit of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, still in its early stages, must persist.

And it's why the work of an international war-crimes tribunal at The Hague continues to be so important. That court, set up under UN auspices to deal with crimes committed in former Yugoslavia, is in the preliminary stages of trying its most notable defendant: Slobodan Milosevic.

Mr. Milosevic, onetime leader of Yugoslavia, is trying to paint the tribunal as a farce. He won't enter pleas, refuses counsel, and harangues the court with charges that NATO was the real criminal in Kosovo and that he was just fighting Albanian terrorism.

The prosecutors' weight of evidence against Milosevic concerning atrocities in Kosovo, as well as in Croatia and Bosnia, won't be reduced by such bluster. While Milosevic's unwillingness to mount a defense makes the court's task harder, it can't dilute the reality that justice is being dealt someone who helped orchestrate ethnic cleansing and mass murders.

Ideally, a day in court would await Mr. bin Laden as well. But the circumstances are utterly different. The regime protecting him, Afghanistan's Taliban, appears impervious to international pressures. Moreover, his supporters aren't the diehard nationalists of one country - like the Serbs under Milosevic - but radicalized co-religionists scattered about the globe.

It took years to bring Milosevic to account. It could take years to stop bin Laden and his terrorist network. Civilization requires it be done.

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