Thursday, March 08, 2007

ICJ and Serbia, another take

From Tribune in the UK this week - another look at the ICJ verdict.

Two cheers for the International Court

When the International Court returned its verdict on Serbia, the reaction of some commentators was like a chill blast from the thirties. Some of those who would have rushed to condemn it is as a kangaroo court dispensing victor’s justice if it had found Serbia “guilty,” quickly pronounced exoneration for Belgrade and vindication for their own ceaseless downplaying of the crimes of Slobodan Milosevic and defence of “the Serbs.”

In the real world, an “exoneration” that found that the Serb state in Republika Srpska had committed numerous war-crimes and crimes against humanity in Bosnia, including an “Act of Genocide” at Srebrenica, and that Belgrade had failed it prevent it, is far from being a finding of “not guilty,” let alone of innocence.

And we should remember that Britain used strong-arm tactics to force Bosnia to drop its other case, against London, for its failure to prevent genocide in the days when the Conservative government was covertly encouraging Milosevic to get it all done quickly.

The ICJ accepted that atrocities had indeed happened, and that among the perpertrators were officers like Ratko Mladic whom Belgrade had seconded to the Republika Srpska Army, and paid. However, because the Serb authorities refused to release the records of the Defence Council in Belgrade, which would almost certainly have shown direct command and control, judges held back from attributing direct responsibility to Serbia itself.

The verdict was illogical – but perhaps politically useful in that it avoided exacerbating the self-righteous sense of victimhood that it is at the basis of the crudest Serb nationalism.

Awarding collective reparations against all Serbs for the actions of the unelected thug who controlled their government and airwaves for the duration of the nineties would not have served justice nor advanced future peace in the Balkans.

Even so, the widows and orphans of Srebrenica are understandably upset that Court has innovatively invented the perpetrator-free crime. The verdict was to some extent distorted by the process and the use of the Genoocide Convention. The Bosnian government had to use it to have hearing at the ICJ. Conventions against rape, torture and “mere” mass murder are not in the Court’s domain.

“Genocide” has been stretched in popular usage to cover mass murder: it does not technically cover the extinction of kulaks, of the victims of the Khmers Rouges, nor, as the UN correctly assessed, mass murders of black Arabic-speaking Muslim agriculturalists by black, Arabic-speaking Muslim pastoralists in Sudan.

The case at the ICJ was brought about by Serb nationalist intransigence. Under pressure from a people that had suffered such horrors, Bosnia wanted its day in court, but Sarajevo would probably have settled out of court for genuine contrition and an apology from Serbia’s government.

After all, the Serb government is now democratically elected and could legitimately point out that Milosevic had not been. Indeed they had overthrown his regime and sent him off to The Hague. However, even Serb moderates had legitimate cause to worry that a more clearly adverse verdict would have saddled Serbia with punitive reparations, so they had half an excuse for refusing to release the incriminating minutes and admitting to the state’s responsibility.

But killing millions of people with or without prejudice to their ethnicity does not really qualify as innocence in my book. It is the killing that is wrong – and inexcusable. But even as as excavators are still at work on newly discovered charnel pits of victims of Serb nationalists from Kosovo, Srebrenica and other horrors in the Balkans, apologists try the same excuses.

Firstly, it did not happen, secondly, “only” a few thousands died, thirdly, we should not really worry about them because Serbs suffered as well, and fourthly, Clinton and Blair waged illegal war using cluster bombs and depleted uranium ammunition.

It puts the defenders of Milosevic in the same position as if they had sprung to the defence of the Nuremburg accused on the grounds that the Allies had bombed Dresden, and that the Czechs had ethnically cleansed the Sudeten Germans from the homeland with extreme brutality. These were indeed reprehensible deeds, but I suspect that few of the Milosevic fan club would argue for the posthumous acquittal of the Nazi leadership.

While, as the Milosevic fan club points out, people of all faiths and ethnicities suffered in the Balkan Wars, it is irrefutable that it was the now-deceased strongman’s exploitation of Serb nationalism to consolidate his power that set in train the tragic events.

But even after the verdict, nationalist pressure in Belgrade is now trying to prevent an acknowledgment of responsibility, and as the ICJ points out, Serbia is still effectively giving asylum to Mladic and Karadjic.

The current government in Republika Srpska has already apologized for the crimes committed at Srebrenica, perhaps well aware that the legitimacy of the Dayton agreement that confirmed their quasi-Apartheid state will come under close scrutiny now.

Anyone who really supports “the Serbs” should be telling them that it was time to ‘fess up to what Milosevic did in their name, and disclaim his deeds, rather than covering for them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Milosevic did far less harm than Tony Blair. He and all the media whores who backed his wars (Hitchens, Nick Cohen, you, et al) are the ones who should be put on trial.