Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Why has Ratko Mladic evaded capture ?

Florence Hartmann, former spokeswoman for Carla del Ponte, chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal (ICTY) for the former Yugoslavia, has responded to my last post. You can read her response here, and my response to her response here.

Since working under del Ponte as a Research Officer at the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICTY back in 2001, I have come to be extremely critical of her policies as chief prosecutor. I blame her in particular for the ICTY’s failure to indict the principal Serbian and Montenegrin war-criminals. I explain this here and here. However, it would be a mistake to blame the ICTY’s failures on a single individual; ultimately, the institution has not worked very well because of its deep structural flaws and because of obstruction and manipulation by outside forces. And there are undoubtedly other senior officials at the ICTY, in addition to del Ponte, who are responsible for the disastrous policies of the Office of the Prosecutor.

Florence Hartmann, who worked at the ICTY much longer than I did, has written a book, Paix et châtiment. Les guerres secrètes de la politique et de la justice (Flammarion, 2007) that seeks to explain the reasons for the ICTY’s failures and to name the senior officials responsible. In particular, she apparently points the finger at Geoffrey Nice, lead prosecutor in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, and Graham Blewitt, deputy chief prosecutor under del Ponte. Both Nice and Blewitt have, since quitting their jobs at the ICTY, publicly criticised del Ponte’s handling of the role of chief prosecutor. ‘Paix et chatiment’ is no. 1 on my reading list of books that I plan to read now that term is coming to an end and I no longer have teaching commitments; given the importance of its subject matter (not to mention the fact that my French is rather rusty), it will require the devotion of quality time, after which I shall be able to evaluate it properly. But I think it safe to say that this book will be required reading for anyone wishing to understand the failures of the ICTY.

Hartmann argues that Mladic has evaded capture not just because of Serbia’s unwillingness to arrest him, but also because certain Western governments have deemed it not in their interest that he be arrested – she explains this in more detail here than she did in her response to me. In principle, I find this entirely plausible. The genocidal massacre at Srebrenica, for which Mladic is responsible, occurred because Western governments and the UN were willing to allow Serb forces to conquer the ‘safe area’. The extent of Western and UN complicity in the Srebrenica massacre runs very deep, and it is entirely possible that Mladic could greatly embarrass Western governments with everything he could say, and that this may be a reason why he has not been arrested. However, as I explain in my response to Hartmann, one cannot draw such a conclusion without firm evidence. Furthermore, it would need to be explained why the international community was prepared to countenance Milosevic’s deportation to the Hague but not Mladic’s; Milosevic presumably possessed the most embarrassing material on Western complicity with the genocide in Bosnia, had he chosen to reveal it (I find Hartmann’s attempt to resolve this paradox unconvincing). Finally, Western complicity in Mladic’s evasion of arrest cannot have been consistent, given the very real pressure on Serbia to apprehend him. This does not mean that there was no such complicity; the left hand may not know what the right hand is doing. But this requires a complex and nuanced explanation.

The Western powers and the UN were undoubtedly complicit in the genocide in Bosnia, and nothing that they have done since 1995 has delivered justice to the victims. We do not yet know the full extent of this complicity, but more evidence will surface as time goes by. This is one more reason why we should hope that Mladic is eventually arrested, and, if Hartmann is right, one reason why he may never be.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Serbia | , , , , | Leave a comment