If crimes against humanity are to be deterred, those that contemplate committing them must know that they will be punished for their misdeeds. The establishment of the International Criminal Court is an important step toward that end, but its effectiveness depends on governments having the political will to prosecute. The score card is mixed.
Last week, hopes that justice might triumph received a boost in Bosnia. There, Mr. Stanislav Galic, a retired Bosnian Serb general, was dragged from a car by international peacekeepers, and whisked off to The Hague, where he will be tried at the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia on charges of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. Mr. Galic had been charged in a sealed indictment issued by the tribunal but kept secret.
During the bloody ethnic war in the former Yugoslavia, Mr. Galic was the commander of the Sarajevo-Rimanija Corps. It kept the city under siege for nearly four years. According to the indictment, he carried out a military strategy that targeted civilians in an attempt to spread terror throughout the city. He was charged with ordering the killing of civilians “shopping in the markets, riding on trams, gathering wood or simply walking with children.” After the war, Mr. Galic became a military adviser to Bosnian Serb President Nikola Poplasen, who was ousted last March for opposing the Dayton peace accords by international officials administering Bosnia.
Mr. Galic’s capture brings the number of war criminals awaiting trial in The Hague to 36. So far, the tribunal has issued public indictments against 92 individuals, but there are an unknown number of secret indictments, like that charging Mr. Galic. Ms. Carla Del Ponte, the tribunal’s chief prosecutor, has said that arresting senior figures in the chain of command from the former Yugoslavia will be her top priority in the next year, but she will need help. The arrest of the former Serb general will remind high-profile figures, such as former Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his top general, Mr. Ratko Mladic, that they must remain vigilant.
The pursuit of justice is hindered for another reason: Some governments are reluctant to take risks trying to apprehend suspects. Prosecutors have complained to the United Nations about Croatia’s unwillingness to assist the tribunal, and recently evidence was found of Croat efforts to actively interfere with the tribunal’s work.
The U.N. has yet to respond to the complaints. Unfortunately, that hesitancy fits only too well with a pattern of behavior. Peacekeeping forces have arrested only 14 of the 36 men awaiting trial; the rest turned themselves in voluntarily. Mr. Karadzic is reportedly in a part of Bosnia patrolled by French forces; U.S. officials have acknowledged that other suspects are living openly in the U.S. sector. Fear of becoming entangled in local disputes, as well as an unwillingness to harm former friends (in the French case), has discouraged aggressive pursuit of suspects. Justice is the victim of this Realpolitik.
The obstacles to justice are even greater in Cambodia. The Phnom Penh government last week revealed how it would try individuals accused of genocide during the Khmer Rouge’s murderous rule from 1975 to 1979. The proposal offers little reason to hope that justice will be done.
According to Prime Minister Hun Sen, only four or five people will be tried. It is impossible that only a handful of individuals could be held responsible for the slaughter of nearly 2 million people. And in fact, Mr. Hun Sen has said that Cambodia’s first priority is reconciliation, not retribution.
Mr. Hun Sen fails to understand that reconciliation is impossible without an accounting for past misdeeds. And justice is not retribution. It is more likely, however, that Mr. Hun Sen understands that all too well, and his needs take precedence over those of his country. The prime minister has been singularly successful in co-opting the former Khmer Rouge into his government. He is worried that an investigation into the Khmer Rouge might unravel the coalition he has built that keeps him in power. The prime minister’s guarantees of immunity are a powerful glue.
That is why the proposal sent to the U.N., which has worked with Cambodia for three months trying to design a tribunal, guarantees that Phnom Penh has a veto over any of its activities. It protects Cambodia’s sovereignty, its people’s sensitivities and Mr. Hun Sen’s power. Justice gets short shrift, once again.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.