Want to join EU? Turn in your war criminals
Wanted Serbs and Croats are going on trial to help their nations into the elite club, writes Tim Judah
Sunday March 20, 2005
What do buses and indicted war criminals have in common? You wait for ages, then they all come along at once.
The United Nations war crimes tribunal on the former Yugoslavia seems to have been marooned for years. The trial of Slobodan Milosevic has been mired in controversy and theatricality as the Americans have been pushing for the whole experiment in international justice to be shut down.
Yet suddenly, there is some action as the tribunal issues final indictments against men alleged to have committed the most appalling atrocities.
Far from mocking the court or hiding, the indictees are on the next plane to the Netherlands and practically beating down the doors to get into its seaside detention centre at Scheveningen.
This is an extraordinary turn of events with implications far beyond The Hague and the former Yugoslavia, taking in Brussels, Washington and Khartoum.
Of course, the three highest-profile fugitives are still at large: Radovan Karadzic, the wartime Bosnian Serb leader; General Ratko Mladic, his military chief; and Ante Gotovina, the Croat general who led his country's troops to victory over the Serbs in 1995. Along with 13 others, the first two at least have been thumbing their noses at justice for almost a decade.
So what is going on? In the past few weeks nine Serbs have turned themselves in; Ramush Haradi naj, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, has resigned and moved to Scheveningen; and the former head of the Bosnian Muslim army has done the same. Two Macedonians are also expected in the next few weeks, as are a clutch more Serbs.
'You must be feeling pleased with yourselves,' I said to a friend at the European Union in Brussels, who works on the Balkans.
'Good, yes,' he replied modestly. But for all his coyness, the fact that the tribunal is reeling in indictees at such speed is a direct consequence of EU muscle-flexing. The message is: 'Want to join the club? Then hand over the killers.'
So far, Serbia and the Bosnian Serb authorities have been loath to risk the wrath of their electorates and security establishments by arresting those on the run, but they are not beyond bribing men to turn themselves in. Feted as heroes, those who have recently left received promises that their governments would stand bail for them and that their families would be looked after, if they sacrificed themselves for the national good.
Last weekend one Serbian minister presented the family of an indictee who had agreed to go with a thank you present: a new car. This might seem a novel way to get men accused of genocide and murder into court, but Serbia has a lot at stake.
In the next few weeks Brussels will decide whether to open EU accession talks with Serbia. These arrests may help but, in the long run, Brussels wants Karadzic and Mladic behind bars. Croatia found that out to its cost last week when talks on its accession were cancelled because Gotovina remains at large.
But what is happening in The Hague has far deeper ramifications: the realisation that the road to Darfur leads through Belgrade.
If the Yugoslav tribunal can now be seen to be completing its task then, runs an American argument, let's repeat it for Sudan, using the UN's Rwanda tribunal in Tanzania.
The US believes genocide is taking place in Sudan. By contrast, the Europeans and others agree with the UN Commission of Inquiry on Sudan that war crimes in Darfur should be dealt with at The Hague's new International Criminal Court.
They believe that by using the ICC, it will be possible to avoid much of the politicisation that has crept into the Yugoslav tribunal.
The US opposes the ICC, fearing its own soldiers and politicians might one day be indicted by it. So as Darfur burns, the big powers fiddle and a UN resolution on Sudan is stalled.
Whatever the eventual solution, one thing is sure. The train of international justice has left the station and there is no going back. Its first stop is Brussels, the next is Khartoum.