Sunday, 29 May 2011

Bring war criminals to justice

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General Ratko Mladic
The news that Ratko Mladic has been found and arrested is a positive reminder of international justice working. Mladic was indicted for the slaughter of 7,500 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995 and his day in court is long overdue. 
Cemetery at Srebrenica-Potocari
Just like the Nuremberg trials in 1945-46, it is very important to demonstrate that those who commit crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes are found and publicly tried.
Nuremberg Trials
I remember writing to the British Prime Minister, John Major demanding that something be done to end the massacre and receiving a typically bland reply and thinking that his weak, hand wringing was utterly unacceptable. I had grown up with the images of Jews being hunted and murdered by Nazi thugs and here on European soil was another genocide being practised. Major's letter to me was one of the galvanising forces that led me to throw my hat into the ring for the Labour candidacy a year or so later and led me to winning the seat of Shrewsbury and Atcham in 1997.
Slobodan Milosevic
In 2003 on the second anniversary of 9/11, I visited The Hague to see the trial of Milosevic and watched him behind the glass screen. He was brazen, confident and tried to impose his personality and will on the court. The judges were not impressed and would repeatedly correct his behaviour. The mistake was to allow the trial to drag on for more than five years and give the former President of Serbia so much air time. His early death of natural causes in custody robbed his victims of seeing him found guilty but at least he was forced to endure a trial and face his accusers in court.
Justice can still be done if proceedings are clearly given boundaries and a trial of even one year should have been enough. I was incredibly impressed meeting the legal team for the prosecution who were working with very limited budgets and having to fly witness around the world from for instance Sarajevo to Geneva to Paris and then The Hague so that the neighbours back home did not know they were appearing as witnesses against Milosevic. It took a huge amount of resource to make justice work and for it to be seen to be working.
But what remains in my mind is the terstimony of one witness who appeared cloaked behind a curtain. She was crying and whispered the story of how the Serbian soldiers had arrived in her village and picked out men and boys to kill. They then found two women hiding in a toilet block and casually tossed in two hand grenades. They walked away laughing to the screams of the women dying an awful death. 
Humans can be the most amazingly kind, generous protective creatures who can love and care for the vulnerable and the sick. Yet the same species can also be unspeakably cruel, devious and wicked. What happened in the Former Yugoslavia (on all sides) were acts of genocide and crimes against humanity. It is right and proper to hunt down those responsible. They can and will have a fair trial and the opportunity to defend themselves but that is the best way to deal with them.
Osama Bin Laden 
The killing of Osama Bin Laden was different. American Special Forces had split seconds to decide on foreign soil if they could take him alive and President Obama had made clear in his orders (no one could imagine President Bush seriously considering international law) that if possible he should be arrested. It was highly likely that given the risks involved the most likely outcome was that Bin Laden, a self confessed terrorist, would be shot and killed with the clock ticking down until all Hell let loose in Pakistan.
Front view of the ICTY.jpg
ICTY building in The Hague
Mladic will hopefully be handed over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [corrected from original article that stated International Criminal Court] in The Hague peacefully, just like Milosevic was before him. There is time to carry out the indictment and time for justice to be smoothly practised. 
It has been a bumpy road but I trust that the trend towards indicting, arresting and putting on trial where-ever possible will continue for those who carry out atrocities. As democracy flourishes and grows the values of justice under the auspices of the United Nations, will push back the evil that humans do until one day I hope such acts will banished into the mists of time.


  1. The arrest of Mladic is good news but it sounds less good news if it is true
    a) that Serbia protected him for years while the nons treated his illness (heart issues)
    b)EU member (Germany, GB ...) states negotıated a deal to bring him to court
    what kind of a member (Serbia) are we getting in Europe ? Even more nationalist groups ? Who actually don't undersign European values ? And shouldn't Bosnia Herzegovine be invited first?
    İf this is all about the EU economy why do we pretend a system of moral values (as there are solidarity, freedom, equality...)

  2. Small but important point is that he is going to be on trial under the statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and not the International Criminal Court (under the Rome Statute) - I would hate you to turn up at the wrong courtroom. Are you really asking the ICTFY to forgo jurisdiction on this case or is it a typo?

  3. John, many thanks for correcting the record. You are absolutely right it is the ICTY. Much appreciated. Best wishes. Paul


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