Fugitive Serbian war criminals and the West.

AuthorClemenceau, Francois
PositionPeace and Punishment: Secret Wars of Politics and International Justice - Book review

Peace and Punishment: Secret Wars of Politics and International Justice

By Florence Hartmann. (Published only in French: Paix et chatiment)

Flammarion, Paris, 2007, 319 pages.

At last, a new book tackles the tormenting question of why the two most wanted mass murderers of the Yugoslav civil wars have yet to be brought to justice a decade after international warrants were issued for them. Despite repeated reports of their imminent arrests, the pair--Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, who headed the Bosnian Serbs' army--has managed to elude capture and extradition to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.

Multiple explanations have been floated for their apparent untouchable status: for example, were they blackmailing some foreign leaders with embarrassing secrets about their governments' complicity in stirring up the conflict in Bosnia? But after the Serbian authorities gave up Slobodan Milosevic, the former head of Yugoslavia, to the Hague tribunal (he died there while his long messy trial was still going on), the mystery deepened. What could his two henchmen know that Milosevic didn't? Year after year, their impunity has marred hopes for closure among the communities who survived the ethnic cleansing and other civilian atrocities in the Yugoslav conflicts--and undermined hopes for stronger international justice on war crimes.

Now an explanation has finally come from an authoritative source--Florence Hartmann, a former offi cial at the Hague tribunal and an experienced journalist in the Balkans. In a behind-the-scenes account of the manhunt, Peace and Punishment, a well-found pun on Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, she shows how the two war criminals benefited from power politics among the very nations that, publicly, were pressing for the success of the Hague tribunal. The United States, France, Germany and Britain were offi cially proclaiming their determination to see justice done. But in practice, these same governments often worked at odds with the tribunal, putting a higher priority on their national agendas and broader political goals in the post-war Balkans.

Essentially, the Western objective was to preserve some ties with Serbia in a process of often-painful transformation that ultimately included the independence of Kosovo. When the newly-elected Kosovar government announced its unilateral declaration of independence in February 2008, the new country was recognized by main Western governments in spite of the bitter objections from the Serbian government in Belgrade and the wider Serbian population. Russia has resisted the step, too, partly because it fears any trend toward enlarging NATO. Some EU governments have not recognized Kosovo, citing their concern about separatist movements. But Washington and key EU capitals showed solid common purpose in this showdown.

The current outlook is a stark contrast to the same Western governments' double-talk and maneuvering about Bosnia and its war criminals. On...

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