Tragic Hero?

ratko.jpgAs a librarian, I collect books without prejudice. It’s practically a part of our code of ethics. After all, how can you discuss and research Holocaust deniers (and the like) if you don’t have the original text? Not to mention, there are any number of subtopics on any given subject that eventually wind up shifting to the forefront of scholarly research. Who’s to say that academics won’t turn their attention to the Congo in the coming months? Or to Timor?

Nonetheless, I was a little disturbed by a recent book entitled Ratko Mladic: Tragic Hero. I agree that every story has any number of sides and, academically speaking, you have to examine them all before you make a decision. Yet, I have to admit I nearly choked on my coffee when I read the title of this book. Even if you’re going to argue that Mladic wasn’t responsible for the Srebrenica massacre, it’s hard to understand how you could formulate an argument for him being a “tragic hero.”

As a librarian, it’s certainly going to find its way into my purchase queue. But Yelesiyevich (the author) would have to pull off a phenomenally Herculean feat in order to convince me that Mladic was heroic.

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.

Mandic charged with war crimes

Bosnian Serb minister Momcilo Mandic, who is already standing trial for abuse of office and organized crime, was given the additional charge of war crimes on Monday. According to the report, Mandic led an attack by Serbian Police on a training camp in Sarajevo in April 1992.

“The indictment further alleges that the accused, having the duties of justice minister … was exclusively responsible for the functioning of the correctional facilities in the Serb Republic between May and December 1992,” the court said in a statement.

The prisons, two near the Bosnian capital and one in the eastern town of Foca, were allegedly run as detention camps where many non-Serbs were illegally imprisoned, it added.

Mandic served as deputy interior ministry and justice minister under Radovan Karadzic who is currently a war crimes fugitive.

Serbian trials

The Hague began the largest group trial in its history today. It’s the latest in a series of trials for accused war criminals from the Bosnian Serb army. A similar trial of six Serb military officers and politicians accused of crimes from the 1999 war in Kosovo opened this past Monday.

In a rather startling opener, Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte was asked to sit down after the defense objected to the emotive nature of her opening statement. The defense argued that this should be saved for the opening arguments, which are slated to take place on August 21.

The following men are being charged with genocide:

Ljubisa Beara — chief of security for the Bosnian Serb army
Ljubomir Borovcanin — deputy commander for the Bosnian Serb special police
Vinko Pandurevic — the brigade commander that led the attack on Srebrenica
Drago Nikolic — the brigade’s chief of security
Vujadin Popovic — military police officer

The remaining two men — Radivoje Miletic and Milan Gvero — are charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is alleged they blocked aid and supplies from getting to thousands of refugees in Srebrenica.

The former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic died in March of a heart attack, bringing a close to his own trial. The two men who were chiefly behind the killings — Gen. Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadic — have never been captured.

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?