Bringing Milosevic to Justice

Article excerpt

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica may have been swept into power by the strongly democratic yearnings of his people, but he now faces a host of daunting challenges, not the least of which is how to bring to justice the man who masterminded the "ethnic cleansing" of Bosnia and Kosovo.

Slobodan Milosevic's victims and many human rights advocates fear that, notwithstanding his indictment by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague, Mr. Milosevic will escape justice because Yugoslavia or some other nation will grant him safe haven.

But Yugoslavia's new democrats have higher priorities than dealing immediately with Milosevic. They now are focused on consolidating their hold on government and rebuilding their country's desecrated political and economic institutions.

Whether a trial happens sooner or later, in Yugoslavia or at The Hague, victims and observers should have patience, because bringing Milosevic to justice is in everyone's interest. History shows that a thriving democracy with lasting peace can only be assured when crimes of the past are acknowledged and peoples' need for justice is met.

Even though Mr. Kostunica does not support The Hague tribunal, his administration chose not to "cut a deal" with Milosevic before driving him from power - even after Jiri Dienstbier, the UN human rights envoy for Yugoslavia, announced that he was in favor of granting immunity from prosecution in return for Milosevic's resignation.

Furthermore, Yugoslavia's new foreign minister, Goran Svilanovic, supports the formation of a truth commission of independent experts to investigate responsibility for crimes and the suffering of victims of all parties to the Yugoslav wars, and the opening of an office of the ICTY.

Significantly, Kostunica has not ruled out the possibility of trying Milosevic in Yugoslavia.

But Kostunica has his hands full trying to unify his country, and he doesn't want to alienate any of the constituencies he needs. Those who would rush Milosevic to justice ahead of the other priorities set by Kostunica need to imagine themselves in the new president's shoes before condemning his choices.

At the same time, demands for justice do not disappear with time, as evidenced in the recent upsurge in legal proceedings against Nazi survivors for crimes committed at the time of World War II. Whether Kostunica wants them to or not, those demands will assert themselves onto a democratic agenda and force their way up the priority list.

In time, they will supplant other priorities that he now puts on the front burner. This is what happened in Chile. From the day Augusto Pinochet ceded power, many Chileans called for his prosecution for human rights abuses. Anti-cipating this demand, Mr. Pinochet declared himself "senator for life," with accompanying amnesty from judicial prosecution. …