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Milosevic’s Trial Was Not in Vain

Slobodan Milosevic cheated justice, and by doing so demonstrated the futility of attempting to deal with war crimes and crimes against humanity through international prosecutions. That, at least, is the conclusion that some people have reached after Milosevic’s death in a Hague prison: the fact that he was able to drag out his trial for four years and still escape a verdict is considered proof that the international community is wasting its resources by putting such people on trial for their misdeeds.

Even the most dedicated partisans of international justice concede that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has had many shortcomings. All those associated with it were new to such proceedings, and had to learn on the job, as there had been no such bodies since the courts at Nuremberg and Tokyo after World War II.

Moreover, the post-WWII bodies were tribunals in which the war’s victors judged the losers, and those prosecuted were already in custody. The ICTY, by contrast, has no capacity of its own to arrest defendants. It must rely on persuasion to secure cooperation by others – cooperation that is still being withheld in the case of the two most notorious defendants from the Bosnian War, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic..

Until Tony Blair and Robin Cook became, respectively, Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom in 1997, four years after the ICTY was established, NATO troops in Bosnia failed to arrest indicted suspects even when they ran into them. By now, of course, 133 defendants from all parties to the wars in ex-Yugoslavia have appeared before the Tribunal, charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and even genocide.