[Mb-civic] No judgment at The Hague - Cara Robertson - Boston Globe Op-Ed
swiggard at comcast.net
Tue Mar 14 04:11:44 PST 2006
No judgment at The Hague
By Cara Robertson | March 14, 2006 | The Boston Globe
WITH JUST 50 hours of his trial remaining, Slobodan Milosevic died in
his cell. Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor at the UN War Crimes
Tribunal, lamented the justice denied to the victims of the Balkan wars.
Eluding a guilty verdict, Milosevic, the former president of Yugoslavia,
goes to his grave shrouded in his presumption of innocence.
Still reeling from the suicide of former Croatian Serb leader turned
prosecution witness Milan Babic, the Tribunal now confronts a much more
serious blemish on its record. After 466 court days spread out over four
years, the Milosevic trial remains permanently unresolved. Given the
resources expended to try Milosevic on 66 counts of war crimes, crimes
against humanity, and genocide, it is hard not to see his death as a
disaster for the Tribunal's legacy.
Indeed, the abrupt end to the proceedings gives credence to the typical
range of complaints about the sluggish pace of justice at The Hague.
Because the prosecution chose to combine separate indictments for
Milosevic's alleged crimes in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo, his trial
became ''the trial," emblematic of the Tribunal's entire docket. This,
plus the short attention span of the media, contributed to the false
sense that the UN War Crimes Tribunal -- on those occasions when it was
correctly identified and not confused with the International Court of
Justice down the road -- was set up simply to try Milosevic. And, in his
role as central actor in the drama, Milosevic did not disappoint. He
arrived unbowed, challenged the legitimacy of the court and, until
compelled for health reasons to accept counsel, conducted his own
defense. He belittled the judges, hectored witnesses, and ranted for the
cameras. When bored by the proceedings, he examined the spectators
behind the bulletproof glass with imperial disdain. Given the minimal
coverage of the Tribunal's other work, punctuated by the occasional
snippet of Milosevic behaving badly, it is not surprising that people
believed that nothing much beside Teatro Slobo was going on.
But Milosevic's case was far from the only game in town. The UN War
Crimes Tribunal, officially called the International Criminal Tribunal
for the former Yugoslavia, was established in 1993 by UN Security
Council Resolution 827 to prosecute serious violations of international
law committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia since 1991.
Functionally, it covers crimes committed over a 10-year period. More
than 130 accused people (Serbs, Croats, and Muslims) have appeared
before the Tribunal. Thousands of witnesses have testified in their
trials. In addition to the defendants currently on trial or awaiting the
outcome of appeals, 85 have had all proceedings concluded against them.
Six were acquitted and the rest are serving or have served their sentences.
But more important than raw numbers, the Tribunal's jurisprudence has
made it clear that individual criminal responsibility for crimes against
humanity, war crimes, and genocide extends to the highest reaches of
command and into the civilian leadership. For in addition to assigning
culpability for past crimes, the Tribunal's mission is to deter future
crimes and contribute to peaceful reconciliation, goals that can be
served only by clarifying the contours of international criminal law and
by creating a detailed historical record. One difficult case at a time,
it has assembled a record of inhumanity that should hamper attempts at
revisionism and outright denial in the region.
Against this background, it is worth reconsidering the significance of
Milosevic's prosecution depended upon the evidence gathered in the
course of the other prosecutions and built upon the findings -- for
example, that the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys was
indeed genocide -- of earlier judgments. And the evidence presented at
his trial is not lost. It remains part of the historical record.
Perhaps most importantly, the international community held a head of
state accountable, piercing the veil of impunity. The world has been
denied a verdict, but Slobodan Milosevic spent his final years in a cell
in Scheveningen, not a villa in Belgrade. Called to answer for his
actions, he is now -- as he so often claimed -- beyond the court's
jurisdiction and must await the judgment of a higher tribunal.
Cara Robertson, a fellow at the National Humanities Center, was a legal
adviser to the UN War Crimes Tribunal.
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