No justice for Milosevic

Philip Ferguson plf13 at
Sat Jun 30 21:52:21 MDT 2001

After the crap from 'Spiked' about the "corporate world being co-opted by
the counter-culture" (of course, it's actually the other way around),
here's something a bit better:          Friday 29 June 2001

      by Mick Hume

      Former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic may be guilty of many
crimes. No doubt there will be time enough to sort through the facts in the
long months before he stands trial at the International War Crimes Tribunal
at The Hague.

      For now, however, let us question a couple of conclusions to which
many commentators appear to be leaping.

      First, Milosevic is not single-handedly responsible for the wars that
have torn apart what was Yugoslavia over the past decade. The lion's share
of the blame actually belongs to the Western powers, whose interventions
have exacerbated the Yugoslav crisis at every stage.

      Second, whatever Milosevic has or has not done, the war crimes
tribunal is not the place to hand down justice. It is less a court of
international law than a creature of global power politics.

      Ever since at least 1992, when the German-led EU recognised the
breakaway republics of Croatia and Slovenia, and the USA recognised the
independence of Bosnia, the interference of outside powers has provided the
spark to set the Yugoslav tinderbox ablaze. Time and again international
intervention has only helped to perpetuate and intensify the Balkan
conflict, as it spread from Croatia through Bosnia to Kosovo and now

      Milosevic's Serbia was usually held up as the major villain of the
piece. But in truth it is hard to see how he was much different from the
other Stalinist-bureaucrats-turned-nationalist-politicians engaged in a
local power struggle in the Balkans. Yet the Serbs alone were singled out
as 'the new Nazis', and bombed by NATO.

      So it is that Milosevic becomes the first-ever head of state to be
brought before an international war crimes tribunal. However the trial
turns out (and the odds are clearly stacked against him), it will be highly
questionable whether justice has been done.

      The issue of war crimes has always been politically loaded. One man's
act of war is another's atrocity. Whether or not an action becomes defined
as a war crime by the West tends to depend less on the numbers killed or
the methods employed than on whose finger was on the trigger.

      So far Milosevic has been charged with committing crimes against the
ethnic Albanians of Kosovo. His regime's record of repression in that
province is certainly grim. But the issue of war crimes in Kosovo remains
shrouded in the smoke of propaganda.

      In order to justify NATO's war against the Serbs in 1999, we heard
claims that up to 100,000 Kosovo Albanians had perished. After its
extensive investigations, the tribunal now reports having found a total of
'almost 4000 bodies or parts of bodies' (a figure that includes combatants
and civilians, Albanians and Serbs).

      After recent reports of some more graves, the figure of 'up to
100,000' Albanian dead has been bandied about once again, with claims that
the Serbs hid and destroyed the bodies. The truth of these claims remains
to be tested. We might recall, however, that shortly after the Kosovo war
we were told that the Serbs had been burning thousands of bodies in the
Trepca mine complex - 'the Serb Auschwitz', as one paper called it. The
tribunal subsequently discovered no evidence of any bodies or remains at

      Not only are the facts in doubt, but the broader question remains:
should the war crimes tribunal at The Hague sit in judgement on a former
head of a sovereign state?

      It is arguable that the existence of this Tribunal is itself an
infringement of international law. It was set up by the major powers that
sit permanently on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) - the USA,
Britain, France, Russia and China - in contravention of the UN's own
principle of non-intervention in the affairs of member states.

      The tribunal has been justified on the bogus basis that the Yugoslav
struggle was not a civil war but an international conflict. In truth, the
only thing that internationalised that rolling civil war was the
intervention of the permanent members of the UNSC.

      Alongside unresolved questions about the legality of the tribunal,
there are also problems with the procedures it has employed. There are no
juries, and things have been permitted during trials at The Hague - like
hearsay evidence and anonymous witnesses - that have no place in a just

      But then, the primary purpose of the tribunal has always seemed to be
more political than legal. It embodies the right of the international
powers to sit in judgement on the world, and to draw a line between the
civilised West and the rest. The double standards behind the kind of
justice such a body dispenses has become clear in plans to establish a
permanent International Criminal Court (ICC).

      NATO secretary general Lord Robertson (UK defence secretary during
the war with Serbia) has suggested that most defendants at the ICC would
probably come 'from countries with no super power support'. Last year, the
then-foreign secretary Robin Cook spelt it out even more bluntly,
announcing on BBC's Newsnight that 'If I may say so, this is not a court
set up to bring to book prime ministers of the United Kingdom or presidents
of the United States'.

      There is no danger of any of the NATO leaders responsible for the
bombing of civilian targets in Serbia or Kosovo - like, say, Robertson or
Cook - being hauled before an international tribunal.

      The speed with which Milosevic was handed over by the new Yugoslav
government, apparently in defiance of its own constitutional law, reflects
the degree of authority that the West (aka 'the international community')
now exercises over global affairs. In return for a few favours and handouts
of aid, the USA, EU and NATO now seem capable of recreating any society in
their own image, all in the name of justice and democracy.

      Meanwhile, back in the real world, more trouble is brewing across the
Balkans. With Milosevic gone, the Western governments will have to find
some new bogeymen to blame for the mess that is largely of their making.

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