Global Policy Forum

Let the War Crimes Tribunal Do Its Work


By Boruty Grgic

International Herald Tribune
March 9, 2005

Rare are moments in history when the fate of so many nations depends on an international tribunal. This is the case today in the Balkans, where the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia stands in between the Balkan nations, their past and their future.

On Tuesday, Kosovo government sources confirmed that the tribunal had indicted Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj for war crimes. How Haradinaj and the Kosovo Albanians react to the indictment will open or close the doors on independence for Kosovo. If Haradinaj goes to the tribunal in The Hague voluntarily, and if the Albanians ensure a peaceful transition, there will be renewed pressure on the international community to move toward a discussion on final status.

The start of Croatia's process of accession to the European Union now depends on whether Zagreb can demonstrate that it has done all in its power to extradite General Ante Gotovina to The Hague. The foreign ministers of the 25 EU member states will meet on March 16 to decide whether Croatia has cooperated fully with the tribunal, which was a precondition for EU entry. So far, Carla Del Ponte, the tribunal's chief prosecutor, says Croatia has failed to fulfill its end of the bargain.

In Belgrade, meanwhile, the Serbian government has been reluctant to back the international tribunal; Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, in particular, has preferred not to put pressure on the indicted. Only recently, it seems, is Kostunica beginning to pay heed to international pressure, mostly from America. The big test for Belgrade is General Ratko Mladic. Unless Serbia drastically improves its record with The Hague, it is unlikely to be allowed to take the first formal steps on the road to EU membership.

The tribunal also hangs over Bosnia's shoulder, standing in between Bosnia's splintered past and its EU and NATO future. The worry is that many in the region are growing tired of the tribunal. They argue that it has been ineffective, and as a result are urging that the international community relax conditions on cooperation with the tribunal. They argue that Belgrade, for example, cannot be held accountable to the tribunal and at the same time cooperate on the final status of Kosovo.

Downgrading the importance of the international tribunal at this point would be a mistake. It would reward all those politicians in the region who have actively sought to cheat their way into the EU and NATO by ignoring or refusing to cooperate with the court. The international tribunal has always been not just about legal justice, but also about reconciliation and minorities. Much work remains to be done on all three fronts in the Balkans.

A majority of Croats - 55 percent - still think that the government of Prime Minister Ivo Sanader should refuse to extradite Gotovina. This raises questions over whether they have come to terms with the fact that gross crimes and human rights violations were committed in their name, and in the name of Croatia. Across the border in Serbia, Justice Minister Zoran Stojkovic recently called the indicted General Miletic, "honest, patriotic and moral."

It is not surprising, then, that progress on protection of minorities in the region remains unsatisfactory. Croatia has not managed to integrate its Serbian minority, and many Croat politicians are frank about being uninterested in repatriating Serbs. Belgrade has failed miserably in integrating and protecting the rights of the Albanian minority in Serbia.

Despite some positive recent developments, Kosovo's track record on protecting the province's Serbs is unsatisfactory. With Haradinaj stepping down as prime minister, progress made thus far could be undone. Bosnia, for its part, remains a divided country; Sarajevo, once was a bastion of multiethnicity, is now populated mostly by Muslims.

The lack of concern for minority issues is giving rise to separatism across the region, which in turn keeps alive radical nationalist agendas of redrawing borders. The European Community was initially built to help neighbors move beyond war. It has since evolved into a union of values and norms, and one of those norms is protecting minorities. All western Balkan states still fail miserably on this count.

The international tribunal in The Hague was created not to punish Balkan nations, or make their road to EU accession harder, but to help them hold accountable those who decided that genocide and rape were acceptable in post-World War II Europe. Nor was the international tribunal ever meant to represent the sole form of reconciliation for the Balkans, which will not take place without parallel local processes.

Finally, the same degree of scrutiny must be applied across the spectrum. If we are asking Belgrade and Zagreb to deliver their war criminals, then Pristina will have to too. If we are going to cut corners with Zagreb, how can we possibly then expect to hold Belgrade, or Pristina, or Sarajevo accountable? Not upholding international norms and standards in the Balkans will make it that much harder to uphold them internationally.

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