The concept of international justice will be on trial, too
Serbs will now look to The Hague for a kind of closure, but it is always better 
for a nation to seek atonement within itself
        * Simon Jenkins 
        * The Guardian, 
        * Wednesday July 23, 2008
The capture of Radovan Karadzic is unqualified good news. Despite yesterday's 
queue of Balkan pundits eager to destroy any hope of his getting an 
unadulterated trial, he was half the duumvirate that oversaw the worst 
atrocities committed on European soil in half a century. The other half, Ratko 
Mladic, is still on the run.
Quite what Karadzic's defence might be is obscure, unless it is that brutality, 
revenge and the fog of war have long been commonplace in the Balkans. It is not 
an argument that will appeal to the thousan ds of Muslim and Croat victims of 
his fraudulent Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Atrocities also 
committed against Serbs by Croats, notably in Krajina, in no way excuse the 
systematic Serb killings, especially in Sarajevo and Srebrenica.
That Karadzic and Mladic have roamed free for 13 years since their indictment 
by The Hague tribunal in 1995 has been a disgrace both to the international 
rulers of Bosnia, including Britain's Paddy Ashdown, and to Serbia itself. But 
now, with a newly elected government in power, a sort of closure is in sight.
Visitors to Belgrade during the 1990s were baffled by the contrast between the 
European civility of its Serb citizens and their blank refusal to see wrong in 
what was happening in their name in the federated states of Bosnia and Kosovo. 
It was like the dismissive attitude of many Britons to colonial peoples in 
Africa and Asia. After the fall of Tito's communism, the Yugoslav cosmopolis 
disintegrated into its former parts. The release of hatred was appalling.
All who care for peace in the Balkans must now hope that Serbia can put the 
past behind it. It has paid an awful price for voting for Milosevic in 1990, 
including the recent loss of Kosovo and Montenegro. It has had to watch 
regional neighbours such as Slovenia, Croatia and Bulgaria join the European 
Union while its European credentials remained beyond the pale.
This year the Serbs rejected, admittedly by a narrow margin, a return to 
introspective chauvinism, electing a president and government of pro-western 
inclinations. The early capture of Karadzic may well have been precipitated by 
the prospect of European enlargement coming to a halt after the Irish veto. 
Serbs may not desperately want the EU, but they desperately want to be loved.
Not only Karadzic and Serbia are now on trial. So is the concept of 
international justice at The Hague, reduced to bureaucratic farce by the 
handling of Slobodan Milosevic in 2002. That trial was supranational 
jurisdiction at its most flatulent and inert, a monument to the maxim that slow 
justice is no justice. The prosecution case took three years, and by the end in 
2006, both the judge and the defendant were dead.
What the court really achieved in the case of Milosevic and the 44 other Serbs 
brought to trial must be moot. He died in captivity, but the process did much 
to stir fury among the Serbs that Croats and Kosovans - who could be no less 
cruel in their ethnic cleansing - had got off lightly at The Hague.
The case for war crimes justice in its present internationalised form remains 
in question. A burgeoning army of jurists points out that "international" crime 
against humanity is a meaningful concept and that many countries lack the 
security or the competence to conduct criminal trials, which is true. They also 
claim that the prospect of a Hague indictment deters the worst of dictators 
from the worst of atrocities, though it is hard to see this deterrence in 
Defenders of the international criminal court in The Hague also protest its 
infancy. As the lawyer Geoffrey Robertson has written: "It has been a long and 
difficult struggle, legal, political and diplomatic, to hold political and 
military leaders accountable for crimes against humanity." The concept of 
impunity for atrocities within sovereign states is now an acknowledged wrong 
but, says Robertson, it is one that will take time to establish. 
This defence is wearing thin. It may well be that the world needs a lofty 
tribunal to enforce agreed standards of behaviour in war, and to call dictators 
to account. But every murder is a crime against humanity. The glamour of 
Nuremburg still hovers over a process that has become bureaucratic and 
trespasses on conflicts that should be dealt with nationally. It is tempting to 
add that international lawyers who so conspicuously fail to put their 
professional house in order can hardly expect sceptical statesmen to give them 
free rein.
The existence of The Hague is said to have complicated peace negotiations in 
Zimbabwe, Congo, Uganda and Sudan. Leaders are reluctant to step down from 
power without a promise of immunity from extradition to a Dutch jail. 
Meanwhile, war trials in Latin America, Iraq and Cambodia have taken place 
within the jurisdiction of the relevant states, where they are regarded as more 
satisfactory than under the aegis of formerly imperialist Europeans.
It is always better for a nation to seek atonement within itself, as many Serbs 
wanted in the case of Milosevic. He was handed over in 2002 by Serbia's leaders 
in the hope of vast subsidies from EU membership, which did not materialise. 
Local justice might be rougher and tougher, but it compels warring parties to 
confront their past actions on their own territory, and before their own 
people. Such domestic "restorative justice" is a surer way to reconciliation. 
Karadzic should have faced his own people. His removal to The Hague is about 
barter not justice.
This tragedy is the outcome of a process of Balkanisation, in which the west 
was a bumbling but willing partner - as it is in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 
arrival of western troops and politicians in a country appears to be the 
inevitable precursor to partition. Governments that resist decentralisation 
within their own borders become ardent defenders of "plucky little" Kurdistan, 
Kosovo and Montenegro, and doubtless one day plucky Helmand, Waziristan and 
Baluchistan. It is the easiest way to be "doing something".
The best that can be said for such partition is that it brings short-term 
peace. In this case, Serbia has played ball. It has served its time in 
purgatory and its long-term stability is crucial to the future of the Balkans. 
The west now has a clear interest in opening up its trade and helping it on to 
its feet. That cannot begin too soon.

Not happy with your email address?.
Get the one you really want - millions of new email addresses available now at 

Reply via email to