Justice At Last?
Embassy, July 13th, 2005
By Gwynne Dyer
Srebrenica: Justice At Last?
Sometimes diplomats can be very stupid. Right through late June and early July, British diplomats in the Balkans pushed the notion that the July 11 commemoration of the massacre of almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Serbian and Bosnian Serb troops at Srebrenica 10 years ago was an ideal opportunity for everybody there, including Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian Muslim leaders, to issue a joint declaration of "reconciliation and apology." To their surprise, the victims didn't think this was such a good idea.
What happened at Srebrenica on July 11, 1995 was an act of genocide, carried out with meticulous attention to detail by Serbian and Bosnian Serb troops after the Dutch military force that was supposed to defend the UN-declared "safe area" delivered almost the entire Muslim population of the town into their hands without a fight. Neither Muslims nor Croatians had any reason to apologise for the horrors at Srebrenica. It is the Serbs and the Dutch who need to apologise -- but most Serbs are still in deep denial.
In recent weeks, both the Serbian parliament in Belgrade and the Serbian caucus in the Bosnian parliament have refused to adopt or voted down proposed declarations that would have denounced the Srebrenica massacre. Somebody even planted two very powerful bombs near the memorial centre in Srebrenica, although they were discovered and disarmed in time. The reformist Serbian president, Boris Tadic, insisted on showing up for the ceremony, but his presence was condemned equally by Muslim survivors and by his own fellow Serbs.
Forgiveness and reconciliation must happen one day, but it cannot even get onto the agenda while the chief organisers of the Srebrenica genocide, former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic and his military chief General Ratko Mladic, are still free and still seen as heroes by many other Serbs. Both men have technically been on the run since NATO forces imposed a ceasefire and a kind of UN trusteeship on Bosnia in 1995, but they moved freely around Serbia until their patron, Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, was overthrown and delivered into the hands of the UN in 2001. Even now, they are hidden and protected by many willing Serbs.
Although they were both indicted for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague 10 years ago, they have thumbed their noses at international law for a decade because NATO troops either couldn't find them, or didn't try to break through their rings of bodyguards and arrest them because the casualties would be too high.
Now, however, the tectonic plates are finally beginning to shift in the geographical space that used to be Yugoslavia -- now splintered into Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia-Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, F.Y.R. Macedonia and Kosovo -- because the European Union has finally started to use its leverage. It's more carrot than stick: the real inducement for these countries to turn themselves into law-abiding democracies is that they have been led to believe that they might then qualify for EU membership, with all the prosperity and security that that would imply.
But law-abiding democracies hand over indicted war criminals to international courts when requested to do so, so suddenly the mass murderers who carried out atrocious acts of "ethnic cleansing" become a liability for the governments that had hitherto been protecting them as war heroes.
In 1998, five years after the war crimes tribunal was created the detention centre in The Hague only held five inmates. Now there are 62 detainees, including a former president, a former prime minister, a former defence minister and a former interior minister. Eighteen more are out on bail pending trial, and 56 others have already been convicted and moved to other prisons to serve their sentences.
"This is without doubt the most active and productive period in the life of the tribunal thus far," Judge Theodor Meron, president of the tribunal, wrote to the UN Security Council last month. Twenty men, some of them very senior officials, have surrendered to the tribunal in the past six months, cutting the list of those still wanted to only 10. The missing 10 still include the biggest fish -- Karadzic and Mladic.
The EU's refusal to continue with Croatia's entrance negotiations has transformed Zagreb's willingness to cooperate with the tribunal. Its refusal even to open talks with Serbia-Montenegro until Belgrade stopped stalling has had a similar result: In April General Nebojsa Pavkovic, former head of the Serbian army, surrendered himself in The Hague. There is suspicion that his and other recent wave of "surrenders" was eased by large cash payments by the Serbian government to the families of the indicted men, but the point is that it is actually happening at last.
There is even hope that Karadzic and Mladic may soon be delivered to the tribunal. On July 7 Karadzic's son Aleksandar (Sasa) was suddenly arrested by NATO troops in the Bosnian Serb town of Pale, his father's former capital, and taken away for questioning. Nothing will bring the victims of the genocide back to life, but the hunt is closing in on the killers.