Global Policy Forum

The Flood of War Crimes Suspects…


By Anthony Deutsch

Associated Press
March 12, 2005

The flood of war crimes suspects being handed over to the U.N. tribunal could signal hope among Balkan countries wanting to start talks about joining the European Union, the tribunal president told The Associated Press. It also has raised expectations that top fugitives will arrive in time for the court to meet a 2008 target to complete all trials and close the docket on the brutal Balkan wars of the 1990s. Tribunal President Theodor Meron said Friday the surrender of high-ranking figures from Serbia, Kosovo and Bosnia was a sign that international pressure was working.

The recent flurry of activity has raised hopes that top Bosnian Serb fugitives Radovan Karadzic, a former Bosnian Serb political leader, Gen. Ratko Mladic, a wartime commander, and Croatian Gen. Ante Gotovina would be in custody, perhaps this year. ''These arrivals are a signal of cooperation,'' Meron said. ''The international community has pressured governments in the region very, very hard to comply with the court's orders.'' Ten suspects have been taken into U.N. custody since January, raising the number of defendants in proceedings at The Hague to about 70.

Unlike the early years of the court, when NATO-backed peacekeeping forces chased down suspects and arrested them, the 10 recent arrivals surrendered voluntarily or after negotiations with their governments. The men having surrendered has helped the tribunal's legitimacy, especially among Serbs who accuse the court of discriminating against them to further Western political aims. Among those to surrender last week was Ramush Haradinaj, the former commander of the Western-backed Kosovo Liberation Army who resigned as Kosovo's prime minister after he was indicted. Haradinaj arrived in The Hague on Wednesday and was charged by U.N. prosecutors with 37 counts of war crimes for alleged atrocities against Serbs and Gypsies. Also charged were two of his former ethnic Albanian deputies.

On Friday, Karadzic's former chief of police, Mico Stanisic was flown to the Netherlands. Other recent arrivals at the U.N. detention unit were Radivoj Miletic, a former deputy chief-of-staff in the Bosnian Serb army; Rasim Delic, former commander of the Muslim-dominated Bosnian Army; and Momcilo Perisic, former chief of the Yugoslav Army. ''Who would have thought we would have had the chief of staff?'' Meron remarked from his file-packed office. ''It gives me renewed hope that Karadzic, Mladic and Gotovina will arrive.''

Those surrendering to custody, he says, were a result of a combination of the desires of Balkan governments to join the EU and the flexing of political muscles in Brussels. ''The EU's message has been clear: there will be no real negotiations on EU membership if the court's orders are not met. The new element in the calculus is the European Union,'' he said. A deadline of March 31 is quickly approaching for Serbia-Montenegro to hand over war crimes suspects before an EU report on its eligibility to enter negotiations to join the bloc.

''There needs to be much more action on the part of Belgrade,'' Meron said. ''I am convinced that the government of Serbia and Republika Srpska (the Serbian-controlled part of Bosnia) could do more on Karadzic and Mladic.'' The use of such tough tactics by the EU is relatively new, said Paul Williams, a former U.S. State Department lawyer and member of a Bosnian legal delegation during 1995 peace talks. ''After 10 years of lobbying, the EU now realizes that you can't promote political and economic stability in a region if there are war criminals on the loose,'' the American University law professor said in a telephone interview.

The Yugoslav tribunal, established in 1993 by the U.N. Security Council to prosecute individual perpetrators of Balkan atrocities, was the first international war crimes court since Nazi leaders were tried in Nuremberg after World War II. It has indicted more than 150 ethnic Serbs, Croats and Muslims over the past 11 years, including former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, the first head of state to be prosecuted for war crimes.

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