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Serbian war criminals free, thanks to the US

Iqbal Siddiqui

The Serbs will ‘celebrate’ the first anniversary of their occupation of Srebrenica, a UN designated safe area in eastern Bosnia. All Bosnian men in this town of 40,000 people, who fell to the Serbs were separated from the women and children and executed. Hundreds of others who tried to escape through the forests surrounding the town, were hunted down. Official UN figures put the dead at some 7,000-8,000. The true figure is definitely much higher.

Every single murder was specifically ordered by the Serb military authorities. Whenever a party of Bosnians was captured, it was reported up the chain of command. The response was invariably the same: kill them.

The slaughter was overseen by general Ratko Mladic, head of the Serb army in Bosnia, whom numerous eye-witnesses have placed at the scenes of the worst atrocities, and the Bosnian Serb ‘president’ Radovan Karadzic. But it had been ordered by the government of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia. The general staff of the Serbian army, under general Momcilo Peresic, planned the operation and gave Mladic his orders.

Massive amounts of military supplies were sent into the Srebrenica area for two weeks before the attack. These supplies passed through check-points around Srebrenica supposedly controlled by the UN. Some were even flown in by helicopter, despite the UN’s no-fly restrictions.

The slaughter at Srebrenica - only one of many such genocidal Serb operations - forms the basis of the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal’s much vaunted effort to bring Karadzic and Mladic to justice. After months of failing to persuade anybody to arrest them - it has no powers of arrest itself - the tribunal announced in May that it would hear evidence against Karadzic and Mladic, under Rule 61. This is a provision by which the evidence against indictees who have not yet been arrested can be presented in open court and put on record even as the investigation against them continues.

The announcement, on May 21, came as John Kornblum, the US envoy to the former Yugoslavia, began several days of intense and high-profile negotiations with various parties in the region. He is supposedly trying to get Karadzic and Mladic removed from power in the Serb-occupied areas Or Bosnia and handed to the Hague-based tribunal. Kornblum was apparently appointed to the task after US president Bill Clinton became irritated by the Europeans’ failure to arrest them, highlighted by Karadzic’s manipulation of the European Union’s senior civil servant in Bosnia, Carl Bildt.

To date, the Americans’ efforts have also come to naught, which is hardly surprising as Kornblum’s ace card seems to be to enlist the help of Milosevic - probably the only man with even more to answer for than Karadzic and Mladic.

The failure of the international body to arrest, let alone prosecute, the main criminals is highlighted by the little it has managed to do. So far, some 60 people have been andicated, the vast majority of them Serb, but only a few have been arrested. The first trial began in May.

The defendant - Dusan Tadic - a Serb cafe owner from Kozaric in north western Bosnia is accused of having taken part in the torture and murder of Muslims in his own village and in nearby concentration camps in 1992. Tadic was not a soldier, and had no official status. He was a local Serb who enjoyed going into the camps and taking part in the atrocities being perpetrated there. Many other Serbs apparently did the same, welcomed and encouraged by the authorities. Most are still living happily in the houses and on the lands seized from the Muslims they murdered.

Of course, men like Tadic should be tried and punished for their crimes. But the tribunal is hamstrung, and will eventually fail to make any real impact on the problem, because its attempts to enforce criminal justice cannot succeed in the absence of political justice. And the failure of the much-vaunted international community to establish political justice is nowhere better demonstrated than by asking men like Milosevic to help bring the criminals to justice.

While the true architects of the genocide are allowed to remain in power in the lands they have conquered and ‘cleansed’, and are dealt with as international statesmen and peace-makers by the rest of the world, the half-hearted pursuit of a few men like Tadic will be of little comfort to their victims.

The problem with the Hague tribunal is, of course, that it is not independent of the political interests of the UN and the people who control it. It is not a coincidence that the men that the tribunal is particularly chasing are those whom the US and its allies consider dispensable. Where is the clamour for the arrest of Milosevic or other Serb criminals like Arkan, Seselj, et al - names that strike terror in the hearts of Bosnians everywhere? Or, for others in Serbia, not least the generals in Milosevic’s army?

Karadzic may well be handed over to the tribunal. Milosevic would probably view his removal from the Serb political scene as advantageous to him personally. If this does happen, Karadzic’s arrest will come at a good time for Clinton’s electoral prospects, and be presented as another triumph for his diplomacy.

Mladic’s arrest is rather less likely. He was the principal Bosnian Serb dealing with Belgrade militarily, and could embarrass Milosevic, if threatened. And Milosevic himself, the biggest criminal of them all, is the least likely to be tried as he holds the key to the success of US policy in the region. His cooperation was fundamental to the US’s successful negotiation of the Dayton Accord. He is still enjoying his rewards.

Muslimedia - April 1996-August 1996

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 25, No. 2

Dhu al-Qa'dah 12, 14161996-04-01

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