[KDN] WP: Justice for Balkan War Crimes Slow in Coming
- Justice for Balkan War Crimes Slow in
By Charles Trueheart
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, August 1, 1999; Page A23
SARAJEVO, BosniaFour years after the deadliest of the many mass
murders that have scarred the Balkans this decade, the U.N. war crimes
tribunal's forensic teams in their white suits and plastic gloves are still bent
over decaying cadavers in humid tented enclosures near the Bosnian city of
Assisted by scores of toxicologists, anthropologists, archaeologists and
other specialists, the investigators comb the pits where blindfolded bodies
were dumped after systematic executions. They search for clues that will
establish how and on whose orders more than 7,000 Muslims perished at
the hands of Bosnian Serbs over a few days in July 1995. If there is an end
to their work, it is not clear when it will come.
Not far to the southeast, war crimes tribunal investigators have swarmed
across Kosovo over the past two months. They have made almost daily
discoveries of mass graves and other evidence of Serbian atrocities against
Kosovo's ethnic Albanians during the 78-day NATO bombing
campaign--raising the prospect that Yugoslav President Slobodan
Milosevic, indicted with four associates for alleged war crimes in Kosovo,
could stand trial in The Hague.
The quick, massive arrival of investigators in Kosovo suggests that the
machinery of international justice may move toward a relatively swift
resolution. Teams from the tribunal were preceded by demining missions,
surrounded by guards and guns, accompanied by planeloads of volunteers
from documentation services and forensic agencies of many nations and
flanked by an incomparably more intense presence of U.N. personnel, aid
workers and media.
But the dramatic events in Kosovo obscure the prevailing reality of
prosecuting atrocities: The process is slow, fitful, frustrating, perhaps
doomed to be forever incomplete. And the course of justice in neighboring
Bosnia and Croatia offers daily reminders of how much time it can take.
Nearly four years after the end of the Bosnian conflict and seven years
after the war in Croatia died down--conflicts that drove the United Nations
to establish its first post-World War II war crimes tribunal--only half those
known to be indicted are in custody, and only eight out of nearly 70 have
been tried. Most suspects still at large are Serbs--Croatians, Bosnian
Croats and Bosnian Muslims were indicted in smaller numbers--and
among them are those with the greatest authority over the commission of
As for the foremost political leaders of the era--Milosevic and President
Franjo Tudjman of Croatia--they are, for now, unindicted for their roles in
the Bosnian and Croatian conflicts and remain in power.
Will Kosovo be any different?
Louise Arbour, the tribunal's chief prosecutor since 1996, defends the
pace of the its work in both theaters of war crimes as she prepares to
leave for her native Canada and take a seat on its Supreme Court.
In Bosnia and Croatia, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former
Yugoslavia was feeling its way along a landscape pocked with the
still-combustible remnants of bitter ethnic war and overseen by jittery
foreign peacekeeping forces. By comparison, the Kosovo operation has
been a rush job, according to Arbour, other prosecutors and
knowledgeable specialists. Under pressure from the United States and
other Western governments as the Kosovo crisis accelerated last year, the
U.N. prosecutor's office, still taxed with a full schedule for the Bosnia and
Croatia investigations, had to shift gears and reallocate staff and resources.
To prepare indictments during the spring, as the Kosovo war loomed and
then exploded, the tribunal chose to single out six specific cases of Serbian
massacres of Kosovo Albanians that they knew about from the accounts
of refugees and other intelligence provided by NATO governments. That
information formed the basis for the May 27 indictment of Milosevic and
four top political and military leaders in the Yugoslav and Serbian chains of
command. Serbia is the dominant republic of the Yugoslav federation, and
Kosovo is a province of Serbia.
But within days of the bombing halt, as peacekeeping soldiers,
humanitarian workers, journalists and war crimes investigators flooded into
Kosovo, new evidence of hundreds of other massacre sites began turning
up, some known to the tribunal, many not.
Those discoveries have prompted new pressures on the tribunal to deal
with the proliferation of horrors, even though, according to Clint
Williamson, a senior tribunal lawyer, "there's no way to do every crime
scene, not even every major crime scene" in Kosovo. "You have to select
events that are representative of what happened everywhere."
Its investigators, headed by some 20 team leaders from The Hague, are
relying heavily on donated expertise from friendly governments and
humanitarian organizations. They are operating under a waiver granted by
the United Nations, the tribunal's ultimate paymaster, and no one knows
whether that largess and those dispensations will last as long as the job
Except for a spasm of anger from some NATO governments that the
timing of the Kosovo war crimes indictments might upset delicate peace
negotiations with Milosevic--a concern later shown to be unfounded--the
tribunal's work on Kosovo in general has been a useful instrument to
Western powers seeking to demonize the Serbian leader in the eyes of the
world and his own people.
In Bosnia, by contrast, the tribunal's attempts to pressure recalcitrant
NATO governments to arrest leading Bosnian Serb suspects have seldom
been welcome, and were executed slowly and selectively. The 1995
Dayton peace accords, which ended the Bosnian war, authorized NATO
forces to detain war crimes suspects but did not require them to do so. So
it is that Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb president, and Ratko
Mladic, the top Bosnian Serb general during the war, remain free despite
"With an ambiguous mandate, it's always easier to back away from an
arrest, to be sure you don't ruffle any feathers. They always tell us, 'It's not
the right time to do it.' It's never the right time to do it," said Williamson,
who has worked on tribunal prosecutions in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.
"But in Kosovo we have had a commitment from the start at the highest
level in theater, both politically and militarily, to cooperate with us. So
people down the chain of command don't have as much room to maneuver
out of it."
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