Trials Continue at The Hague for Bosian Serb War Crimes
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RAY SUAREZ: It was Europe’s worst civilian mass killing since World War II. As many as 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys lay in mass graves after being massacred by Bosnian Serb troops in the enclave of Srebrenica in 1995.
Now, some ten years later, new amateur footage of some of the killings has brought the massacre into the headlines again. It was first played at The Hague’s International Court of Justice last week, then later aired on Serbian television.
It begins with Serbian paramilitaries receiving blessings from a Serbian orthodox priest. The paramilitaries, known as the Scorpions, then head out on their mission to kill their Muslim prisoners. The gruesome video then shows six men and boys as they are forced to lie on the ground. They’re led into a nearby field, where four are killed. The two remaining prisoners are forced to carry the dead bodies into the woods before being killed themselves.
The video brings Serbs face to face with the brutality of the troops, something they’ve denied for years. Serbia’s president appeared shortly after the amateur footage was broadcast.
PRESIDENT BORIS TADIC (translated): Serbia is deeply shocked because of the video showing the execution of people of other religions and other nationalities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, near Srebrenica. Those pictures are the evidence, proof of the monstrous crimes performed during the war in that region, crimes committed in our Serbian name.
RAY SUAREZ: The massacre at Srebrenica also highlighted the limitations of the U.N. protection force there. Dutch troops offered no resistance to the Serbs. The United States and its NATO allies were galvanized to diplomatic and military action that ended the Bosnian civil war within months.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was established by the U.N. Security Council in 1993. Its mission: To investigate and prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide perpetrated during the Balkan Wars. So far, there have been 37 convictions.
The most prominent of those now on trial is former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic. He was indicted in 1999, in the midst of the Kosovo War, for his alleged role in crimes against ethnic Albanians in Serbia. But other indicted war criminals have been on the run for the past ten years, among them former Bosnian Serb Leader Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic. Mladic allegedly orchestrated the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica. In Sarajevo, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal insisted they must be arrested, and soon.
CARLA DEL PONTE, Chief Prosecutor, ICTY: We cannot wait any longer to have Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic to The Hague. I think that there is only one decent way to pay tribute to the victims and to commemorate in July the Srebrenica genocide.
RAY SUAREZ: Recent news reports quoting human rights organizations have said Gen. Mladic is in the midst of negotiating his surrender, but that is denied by the Serbian government.
RAY SUAREZ: For more on the latest activities of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, I’m joined by the court’s president, Judge Theodor Meron.
Judge Meron, Slobodan Milosevic’s trial has been getting a lot of the attention, but what else is going on at The Hague? Are there a lot of people on trial now? Have there been recent arrests and surrenders?
THEODOR MERON: Well, first, let me tell you, Ray, that the court is now working on all cylinders, 25 judges, several benches, six trials going on every single week. During the last — I’m afraid there’s something wrong with my ear plug. During the last few months, since November, 22 fugitives and detainees were delivered up to The Hague, increasing by 50 percent the number of people awaiting trial.
This is a very substantial increase to our docket, and it also means that the relentless pressure by the international community on the government in the area has been working and is producing results. And let me add this, Ray, most of those recent arrivals are very senior in rank. We are talking about generals; we are talking about chiefs of staff. We are not talking about small fry.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, during the many years that the tribunal has been in existence, has there been an emphasis, either on the people who engineered and ordered these killings, or the people who were doing the dirty work in the field, or both?
THEODOR MERON: Well, we have been always trying to focus on the leaders. We have always regarded our historical mission as one which is aimed at trying, prosecuting, according to due process, the people who are principally responsible for the atrocities that have occurred. Actually, as you may know, we started painfully slowly because we have no police power, and for some years, governments have been very reluctant to arrest those whom we have indicted and deliver them up for trial at The Hague.
THEODOR MERON: Recently, we have had really something which I would regard as dramatic change in the situation, a dramatic, spectacular success. This is a court, first international court since Nuremberg, after a gap of 50 years, in which nothing has been happening with regard to accountability and putting an end to impunity. And here we have a court with 25 judges, several trial courts, an appeals chamber, or an appeals court, sitting in benches of five.
But let me tell you that with all these achievements, our historical mission will not have been accomplished, and we will not close our doors before we have tried, according to the entire panoply of due process, which is provided by our jurisprudence before we have tried Karadzic, Mladic, and may I add the Croat, Gotovina. RAY SUAREZ: This spectacular success you described, is it due in part to increased or improved cooperation from the governments in the region? For a long time, people had assumed that Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina were helping to height the people you were looking for.
THEODOR MERON: I think we have seen quite a significant improvement in cooperation by the government in the area. I, myself, was in Belgrade in March and had a very good discussion in depth with Prime Minister Kostaritsa, and I must tell you, that since then, the cooperation has further increased, and I’m fairly hopeful that we will see before long Gen. Mladic at The Hague.
But perhaps the main trigger for this change of attitude on the part of national governments in the area has been the pressure, continuously exercised, not only by the United States, but also by the European Union and those governments; they do realize that unless we all close the book on past crimes and reach fairly complete accountability, they will not be allowed into the European Union. They will not be rehabilitated in the international community. Therefore, it is in their greatest interest, as it is in ours, that we should be able and allowed to try those that must be tried. And I’m speaking of the most senior people.
RAY SUAREZ: Let’s talk about those senior people. You mentioned your hope that Ratko Mladic will be in custody soon. Carla del Ponte, the United Nations high commissioner, spoke very directly of how she hoped his arrest was imminent. Why is there this sudden drumbeat? What information do you know that is leading people to be so optimistic about his apprehension, and what about Radovan Karadzic?
THEODOR MERON: Well, I will not talk about information as a judge. I’m neither a prosecutor nor an investigator. I do not deal with the police, the arrest aspect. But what I can tell you that for the first time, I sense a real recognition by the government in the area that they must do what they’re obligated to do — to the tribunal, to the United Nations Security Council, to the international community, and they realize that it is in their interest to do so.
You have shown earlier today the chilling video of some of the acts which, apparently, occurred in Srebrenica. I don’t want to speak to the forensic, evidentiary aspects of the tape, but let me tell you this: There is no question that this tape is having — has been having a real impact on public opinion in the region.
I think it will act as a very strong antidote to the rampant denial that we have seen in countries like Serbia, for example. They did not want to realize how terrible were the events in Srebrenica, in its character, in its magnitude. Srebrenica atrocity is reminiscent, really, of the events that occurred during the Second World War. And we in Plaecia (ph) The Hague just about a year ago reached a very important judgment in the case of Gen. Karadzic where we called the events in Srebrenica by their proper name — genocide.
RAY SUAREZ: The last indictments have been handed down. Is this court going to be able to wrap up its work by 2008 as originally planned, or are you going to need more time?
THEODOR MERON: I think that we will need more time. I mentioned to you that we have had recently the spectacular success in the number of senior people who have arrived at The Hague, 22, an increase of 50 percent in our docket. Now, they must be tried according to the entire panoply of due process and human rights. There can be no cutting corners on due process, and you will agree with me that international criminal justice is about accountability. It is about fairness. It cannot be driven by the calendar alone.
I spoke to the United Nations Security Council yesterday, and I told the Security Council to complete the trials of those whom we are planning to try, we will have to go to — the trials will have to continue into the year 2009, perhaps until the end of 2009, and of course then we will need another perhaps two years to dispose of all the pending appeals.
I was very much encouraged by the fact that in responding to me, the representative of France said yesterday that there cannot be impunity by default, by which he meant that if some of the senior indictees will not be at The Hague by the end of, say, 2008, we will not close our doors. They cannot sit us out. This would be a shame. This would be an outrage. It would be something that will go very strongly against all modern concepts of international justice.
RAY SUAREZ: Court president, Judge Theodor Meron, Your Honor, thanks for being with us.
THEODOR MERON: Thank you very much, Ray.