The record of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has not been a glorious one. Most of the top-ranking leaders of Serbia, Montenegro and the Yugoslav People’s Army who planned and executed the war of aggression and genocide in the former Yugoslavia were never indicted. The only top-ranking leader to be indicted, Slobodan Milosevic, died before he could be convicted and sentenced. For all their horrendous suffering, the Bosnian people must be content with the prosecution of a few secondary figures. The Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic is one such secondary figure, and his belated arrest may serve as a small scrap of comfort for the victims of his murderous, criminal actions.
The real success over Karadzic is, however, not so much that he has finally been arrested, but that he was indicted in the first place. His indictment back in 1995 ensured that he would be driven out of political life and underground, where he was no longer in a position to dominate Bosnian Serb politics and obstruct peace and reconstruction in Bosnia. The same was true for Milosevic: he was indicted by the ICTY in 1999 and his political fate was sealed; every rational person in Serbia, even among the ranks of the nationalists and regime apparatchiks, knew that an indicted war-criminal could not long remain a European head-of-state. The Milosevic indictment was, along with the Serbian defeat by NATO in Kosova, a major blow to Milosevic’s credibility among his own supporters that helped pave the way for his overthrow.
All this is worth remembering when we consider the indictment issued by International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for genocide and other crimes. The indictment has inspired a chorus of wailing and hand-wringing from various Cassandras and members of the Neville Chamberlain brigade. That the African Union and several of its members have condemned the indictment is undoubtedly a good reason why it should be celebrated; several other heads of state of African Union countries should undoubtedly also be prosecuted as criminals. Countries like South Africa, China and Russia that oppose the indictment of Bashir have also stood out as defenders of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. What a coincidence ! No doubt these sensitive humanitarians are deeply concerned that the indictment may endanger peacekeepers and jeopardise peace negotiations in Sudan… Yeah, right…
Those that align themselves with the genocidal tyrant, Russia and China against the ICC are either extremely naive, or they are likely to view things like international justice and human rights simply as figleaves for ‘Western imperialism’. Veteran Sudan correspondent Julie Flint has aligned herself with the appeasers on this question; she really ought to know better. As for Guardian journalist Jonathan Steele, his polemic in opposition to the indictment of Bashir is an absolute disgrace; he actually uses phrases like ‘The conflict in Darfur is too complex and the attempts to resolve it are too delicate for so one-sided and blunt an approach’, and even ‘Atrocities have been committed on all sides’. Steele followed this up with a eulogy to the Russian regime of Dmitry Medvedev, even complaining that Medvedev has been ‘pilloried in Britain and the US for allegedly backing down on sanctions against Mugabe.’ Pilloried for defending Mugabe – how outrageous ! Even as I write, no doubt many a bereaved mother in Zimbabwe and Chechnya is shedding tears of blood for the indignity suffered by the Russian President. According to Steele, ‘Russia has not always behaved well over the past decade and a half, but it is more provokee than provoker.’ If Steele can reduce Moscow’s slaughter of the Chechens, defence of Mugabe and attempts to sabotage Kosova’s independence and Balkan stability to it having simply ‘not always behaved well over the past decade and a half’, it is unsurprising he is less than enthusiastic about the prospect of Bashir being made to answer for his crimes. And it is a good reason why any sane person should support the opposite of what he advocates.
The Bashir indictment is to be celebrated, because whether or not it results in the tyrant ever facing justice, it represents a nail in his political coffin; a push sending him further along the road already trodden by Milosevic and Karadzic. His international isolation will increase; what is left of his legitimacy will decrease; it will be more difficult for other states to collaborate with him; and if he survives his eventual overthrow, the successor regime will have to collaborate with the ICC in bringing him to trial, which will be a catalyst to its own democratic reform – just as enforced collaboration with the ICTY catalysed democratic reform in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia. Of course, this presupposes that Russia, China and the African Union will not succeed in sabotaging the indictment; I’m not betting my life’s savings that they won’t.
Returning to Karadzic; the principal reason why we should celebrate his arrest is that it indicates the new Serbian government’s commitment to improving relations with the West. This is what Aleksandar Vucic of the neo-Nazi Serbian Radical Party believes; he points out that the Karadzic arrest is occurring simultaneously with the return of Serbia’s ambassadors to states that have recognised Kosova. Five months after the Western recognition of Kosova’s independence, Serbia is making better progress on the arrest of war-criminals than it has done since the time of Zoran Djindjic. The Karadzic arrest bodes well for the future peace and stability of the Balkans.
There is also the tantalising possibility that now he is behind bars, Karadzic may spill the beans on Serbia’s involvement in the Bosnian genocide, and on Western collusion with it. I’m not holding my breath, as earlier Hague indictees have not revealed anything shocking in this regard. But we can always hope…
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