No Safe Haven?

Written on May 30, 2011 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Democracy & Human Rights, Europe, International Law & Organizations

The long saga that led to Ratko Mladic’s arrest shows that international pressure does work. It just takes time.

By Kenneth Roth

BELGRADE, SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO: A Serbian Radical party supporter holds a photo of war crimes suspects Ratko Mladic at the party rally in Belgrade, 24 February 2006. A Serbian ultranationalist party on Thursday urged fugitive Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic not to surrender to the UN warcrimes court, despite mounting pressure on Belgrade to hand over one of the most wanted suspects of the Balkan wars in 1990s. AFP PHOTO / DIMITAR DILKOFF


The arrest of the notorious fugitive Ratko Mladic almost 16 years after his indictment for genocide closes a gaping hole in the otherwise laudable efforts to bring to justice the authors of “ethnic cleansing” in the Balkans. Of the alleged architects of that slaughter, former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic may have been the better known (he managed to drag out proceedings in The Hague until he died, depriving the world of the satisfaction of a judgment); former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic may have been the more flamboyant (his long period in hiding ended in 2008, and he is now on trial in The Hague), but Mladic, the wartime Bosnian Serb military leader, was arguably the most ruthless.

Mladic was not an antiseptic killer giving orders from afar. At Srebrenica, the site of the worst atrocity on European soil since World War II, he handed out candy to placate terrified children as he rounded up 8,000 of their fathers and brothers to be machine-gunned to death in the surrounding hills.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has done an impressive job of bringing the architects of Balkan war atrocities to justice. Slowly it has worked its way through the political and military commanders who directed the slaughter, convicting and sentencing 64. But its work would have been glaringly incomplete if Mladic had managed to escape justice.

The details of Mladic’s many years as a fugitive remain to be revealed. President Boris Tadic said on May 26 only that Mladic had been arrested on “Serbian soil.” That’s not surprising, because it has been widely assumed that Mladic was helped in hiding by a small circle of allies in the Serbian military. They even paid him a pension until 2002 and reportedly had him treated in a Belgrade military hospital. In recent years, the civilian government has made seemingly serious efforts to find him, but the ICTY prosecutors remained suspicious that — like Pakistan and Osama bin Laden — the military’s cooperation was more charade than reality. Read more…

Kenneth Roth is executive director of Human Rights Watch.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on May 26, 2011.


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