Karadzic’s capture

Following closely on the heels of Rwandan genocidaire Callixte Mbarushimana’s arrest, and the announcement that Sudanese President al-Bashir could face an arrest warrant, is news of the capture of Radovan Karadzic. The former Bosnian Serb leader will face charges that include:

Eleven counts of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and other atrocities

Charged over shelling Sarajevo during the city’s siege, in which some 12,000 civilians died

Allegedly organised the massacre of up to 8,000 Bosniak men and youths in Srebrenica

Targeted Bosniak and Croat political leaders, intellectuals and professionals

Unlawfully deported and transferred civilians because of national or religious identity

Destroyed homes, businesses and sacred sites

These actions are being seen by some as the first positive signs that the international community is taking war crimes seriously. Even though it’s unlikely that al-Bashir will stand trial while in power, the arrests do provide a positive spin on what’s traditionally been a fairly murky and unsatisfying justice process.

Not My Turn To Die (review)

not my turn to dieAs the former Yugoslavia broke into a multi-national civil war, it became clear that the Serbs intended to gain control over Bosnia and Herzegovina through a campaign of ethnic cleansing. In Not My Turn To Die, Savo Heleta, a thirteen year-old Serb living in Gorazde, recounts his family’s experience during the army’s siege on that predominately Muslim area.

Even though Heleta’s memoir doesn’t provide a direct testimony of the ethnic violence raging through other parts of the country, it does provide a unique look at the fallout from the conflict. As non-Serbs found themselves persecuted, the reverse was taking place in Gorazde, as the city turned itself into a xenophobic conclave of Muslim refugees, the ultimate outcome being a mirrored response to the Serbians.

Even though the Serbs of Gorazde weren’t the victims of genocide, the similarities are certainly there — Heleta’s family lived in constant fear, were often threatened, were interrogated and beaten, and even spent a short period confined to a building that was nothing short of a makeshift “ghetto.” And just as the Holocaust is riddled with small stories of witnesses lending a hand to aid their former Jewish neighbors, this too becomes the recurring theme of Not My Turn To Die.

While it would be easy to dismiss Heleta’s account as one Serbian’s attempt to downplay the violence against non-Serbs, it’s far better to take this book as it was intended, as a lesson in the blind brutality of war. In fact, what’s most striking about this memoir is its ability to demonstrate that violent events are often viewed through large, global terms, with too little emphasis placed on personal experiences and responsibility. The majority of any given group might take part in a pogrom for instance, but it’s the individual who chooses not to follow that produces an extraordinary result.

Mass grave unearthed

Forensic teams have unearthed 616 more Bosnian Muslim victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre from a mass grave near Kamenica (Bosnia).

The village of Kamenica lies in an area nicknamed “Death Valley”. Nine graves have been found there, containing remains of many of the 8,000 men and boys killed by Bosnian Serb forces as they fled Srebrenica in the last months of the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

“We found 76 complete and 540 incomplete bodies,” said Ismet Music, an official of the regional commission for missing persons, standing on the edge of a muddy grave where white-clad forensic pathologists cleaned up bones.

Some bodies are very well preserved due to an extraordinary microclimate in the grave. Music said some faces were almost intact, with eyes staring wide open.

“It was quite a creepy sight,” he said.

The area was part of one of the larger massacres of the Balkan conflict that saw thousands of Muslims killed and buried in mass graves.

Serbia not responsible

Following quickly behind my entry from last week, the International Court of Justice has issued a ruling stating that Serbia is not responsible for the genocide in Bosnia. The court was unable to find enough evidence proving that the government intended. Even though this will clear the Serbian government from any financial responsibility, it does not stop the courts from pursuing individuals involved in the genocide.

UN court to rule on Serbia

The UN’s highest court is preparing to rule on whether the nation of Serbia was complicit in the 1990 slaughter and displacement of Bosnian Muslims. The trial is complex for several reasons, but perhaps the most daunting of arguments is whether the court has jurisdiction to hand down a ruling.

The key is whether the judges are persuaded that the Bosnian Serbs were under the control of the Serb government – an issue that might have been resolved had the Milosevic trial reached its conclusion. It was stopped when he died, and the massive amount of evidence it heard is now legally worthless.

The Yugoslav tribunal “has not been successful in establishing a proven link between the paramilitaries who did the killing and the government in Belgrade,” said Johannes Houwink ten Cate, a historian at the Netherlands War Documentation Centre and a professor of genocide studies.

By contrast, he said, the Nuremberg trial of Nazi war criminals found a clear chain of command to the Holocaust.

The Bosnia-Serbia dispute is not a criminal case, and the standards of proof are lower than required for a criminal conviction. It is enough that a majority of judges find on a “balance of probabilities” that Serbia was responsible.

However, before the judges even address Serbian responsibility, they must first rule on whether they have jurisdiction – a tricky question on which the same court has contradicted itself in the past.

Serbia argues it was not a UN member when the murders happened, and therefore cannot be judged by the UN court. Yugoslavia’s UN membership was suspended in 1992, and Belgrade was only readmitted as Serbia and Montenegro in 2001. Montenegro split from Serbia last year, and has asked the court to remove its name from the case.

As much of international law has yet to be written, it will be interesting to follow the court’s ruling, as it will likely have huge ramifications for future trials. The most immediate of which is the beleaguered Darfur region of Sudan, where 1.5 million displaced people will hopefully one day have their day in court.

A different court

The International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court, is currently hearing a possibly precedent setting case between Bosnia and Serbia. Unlike its usual cases, this isn’t a dispute over territory or land use. Instead, it’s a civil suit, brought by Bosnia, accusing the former Yugoslavia of genocide.

If successful, this will be the first time a civil ruling on genocide has been handed down by the World Court. With its roots in a bitter civil war, the Bosnian/Serbian conflict, and the resulting ethnic cleansing, leant itself well to this type of lawsuit, particularly after the death of one of its key participants – Slobodan Milosevic.

Normally, cases of genocide involve prosecuting the individuals responsible before the international war crimes tribunal. In this case, however, the entire region was fractured by the conflict, splitting into multiple states, opening the way for this type of suit.

Should the court rule in Bosnia’s favor, the Serbian state will suffer the stigma of having committed genocide, an outcome that would implicate the entire Milosevic government.

For Serbian citizens and their fledgling economy, that could mean also being saddled with hefty war reparations. Bosnia has asked the court to award damages for the loss of life and property. During the war, 100,000 people died, the majority of them Muslims, and entire Muslim towns and villages were destroyed, including their mosques and monuments. No figure was set.

Even though the case was filed thirteen years ago, it is only now wrapping up nine week’s worth of hearings. The entire process has been repeatedly challenged by the Serbians who claim that the court has no jurisdiction to hear this case. Their claim hinges on the fact that during the period in question, Yugoslavia was not part of the United Nations.

Lawyers following the case said defining genocide or proving it at this court might be different. “This is not a criminal trial and the levels of proof needed are not as high,” said Richard Dicker, a director of Human Rights Watch. “In any case, it will be hugely important to see how this court interprets and rules on genocide.”

As Charles Taylor gets ready to stand trial in Europe, one has to wonder, if Bosnians are successful does the same precedent hold true for Sierra Leone or even Darfur?