On the Arrest of Radovan Karadzic


MOSCOW. (John Laughland, Director of Studies at the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation in Paris, for RIA Novosti) -

The arrest of Radovan Karadzic comes almost exactly seven years after the first appearance of Slobodan Milosevic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague on 3 July 2001.  Milosevic's handover was, like Karadzic's, the immediate result of regime change in Belgrade:  just as Karadzic's arrest swiftly followed the formation of a pro-European and pro-Western government in Serbia on 8 July, so Milosevic's arrest in April 2001 was the result of the victory of the Democratic Party (whose leader is now the President of Serbia) at the parliamentary elections in December 2000.

The arrest shows that political power matters deeply when it comes to criminal prosecution:  obviously, as with Milosevic, the fact that Karadzic's friends lost power in Belgrade caused it.  But this truth also applies to the ICTY itself.  At the end of June, the ICTY released Nasir Oric, the Bosnian Muslim commander at Srebrenica whose forces used the cover of the UN safe haven there to conduct nightly raids against the surrounding Serbian villages, and which committed numerous atrocities against civilians.  Oric's release followed the ICTY's acquittal in April of the former Prime Minister of Kosovo and former KLA leader, Ramush Haradinaj, even though the Tribunal in its ruling noted that several prosecution witnesses had been mysteriously killed before they could come to The Hague to give their testimony. 

Many Serbs, then, will be convinced that the ICTY has a fundamental anti-Serb bias.  But the majority of Serbs has evidently also been so worn down by a decade and a half of such hostility from the West in general, that it has presumably decided that if you can't beat them, join them:  this is why Serbs voted for a pro-European president in February and a pro-European government in May.  They, or at any rate their leaders, have concluded that Karadzic should be sacrificed for the greater national good, which in their view means absorption into the EU and NATO.  Serbia's inclusion into these structures, which is now inevitable, will merely complete the West's geopolitical project in the Balkans. 

Therefore, while it may well be true that the ICTY is anti-Serb, this is to miss the key point about the ICTY's political agenda, which is to justify the West's new doctrine of military and judicial interventionism.  According to this doctrine, military force can be deployed against a state when its government commits human rights abuses.  The Serbs are just the people on whom this policy has been tried out.

While it may have great superficial appeal, since there is no doubt that atrocities were committed in the Balkan wars, the hypocrisy of this policy lies in the fact that neither NATO nor any of the Western powers have ever tried to get truly international support for it, for instance by drawing up an international treaty or by reforming the UN charter which currently prohibits such interventionism.  The policy has simply been announced unilaterally. 

No criminal trial of a political leader in history has ended in acquittal, in spite of the fact that the tradition stretches back to the trial of the King of England, Charles I, in 1649.  This is because the prosecution of a former sovereign is a means of demonstrating that a new regime is in power, and that the old regime was never legitimate in the first place.  In the case of Karadzic, things will be no different.  The ICTY commits numerous violations of the best principles of legal procedure to obtain its convictions, and it has in particular elaborated a theory of liability which is so broad that defendants are effectively required to prove their innocence against the presumption of guilt.  Even if no order is produced from Karadzic instructing people to commit war crimes, he will be convicted on the basis that he should have known or must have known.  The ICTY will do this because the political narrative behind his trial is be that he, as Bosnian Serb president, was only ever a criminal; that the state he headed never had any legitimacy; and that NATO's intervention against the Bosnian Serbs in 1995 was therefore not an act of aggression in international law but instead a justifiable act. 

The logic tested in the Balkans 1995 and 1999 (when NATO attacked Yugoslavia over Kosovo) was implemented much more dramatically when the US and Britain declared that they alone had the right to enforce UN Security Council Resolutions in Iraq.  That war - also subsequently legitimised by a political trial - has now consumed nearly a million lives and plunged a whole region into seemingly interminable chaos.  It is time for the world to reflect seriously on the danger of introducing the criminal law into international relations.

John Laughland - British political scientist, Director of Studies at the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation in Paris.  His book on the Milosevic trial, "Travesty", was published by Pluto Press in London in 2007.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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