The arrest of Ratko Mladic last week – some sixteen years after the Bosnian War ended and ten years after he went into hiding following the detention of Slobodan Milosevic – was a truly historic event.
Now, as he sits aged and defeated in a Belgrade jail cell awaiting deportation to the Hague we can truly realize the full legacy of his abhorrent actions and the responses to them….
For International Justice
Despite protestations that he is “too ill to travel” (sickeningly ironic coming from a man who arranged for thousands of young, old and ill refugees to be forcefully marched to their execution sites) Mladic will inevitably be transported to the International Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at some point in the coming days.
The Tribunal has already yielded significant results:
All those idicted, with the exception of Croation-Serb politician Goran Hadzic, have now been detained, sixty-four have been sentenced and another thirty-three are at some stage of trial.
A successful conviction of Mladic will raise the standard higher still, demonstrating that even the most senior, well protected and elusive war criminals can be brought to justice.
Along with Randovan Karadzic, who was arrested in 2008, and Slobodan Milosevic, who died before his trial was completed,
Mladic is the most high-profile and culpable suspect who will appear in the ICTY courtroom.
Should the prosecutors manage to put him behind bars for the rest of his life (as appears likely considering the overwhelming evidence of his atrocities) the success of the Tribunal will be beyond doubt, marking a key milestone in the incredible recent development of international justice -on a par with the founding of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the ongoing trial of Charles Taylor at the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone.
For Humanitarian Intervention
Ten years after Mladic’s forces systematically slaughtered 8000 Bosniak men and boys at Srebrenica, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan recognised that whilst:
“the blame lies, first and foremost, with those who planned and carried out the massacre…we cannot evade our own share of responsibility.”
He was referring of course, to the failure of the international community to prevent genocide in Europe, just one year after it had failed to prevent genocide in Rwanda.
Srebrenica was a designated ‘safe haven’ protected by six-hundred-strong Dutch battalion of the UN Peacekeeping force, under the command of Colonel Thom Karremans. However a series of inexcusable errors allowed the worst war crimes in Europe since World War II to unfold as they looked on helplessly.
UN Refusal to return confiscated weapons to Bosniak troops rendered them unable to defend their countrymen, whilst Karreman’s request for NATO air-strikes on Mladic’s advancing forces was rejected for being submitted on the wrong form.
Fear for the lives of captured French and Dutch soldiers left the Colonel floundering in negotiations as Mladic entered Srebrenica – so he drank a toast with the Serb criminal and stepped aside as the massacres commenced.
Those events have haunted governments, individuals and the United Nations ever since, reviving the ‘never again’ mentality that followed the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide; and spurring successful humanitarian intervention in Kosovo and Sierra Leone.
Today’s intervention in Libya – despite the muddled protestations of far left and anti-war groups – has its roots in Mladic’s butchery, the world’s failure to prevent it and determination that the same should not unfold on the streets of Misrata and Benghazi.
Failure to detain Mladic long presented Serbia’s greatest obstacle to EU accession, to closer relations with neighbours and to breaking with the past. His arrest and imminent deportation will now open new doors, bring new opportunities and allow the country to truly move on from this darkest period of its history.
Protests against Mladic’s arrest did attract some ten thousand in Belgrade and several thousand in other cities – demonstrating the ever present and un-ignorable factor of ultra-nationalists who still regard the criminal as a hero – yet these people are in the minority. The swift response of police to the protests and the determination of Boris Tadic’s government to secure an extradition to the Hague reflect Serbia’s progression away from the man who has so long blighted its image and name.