War Crime Tribunal Shows Hopes, Failings

National Catholic Reporter, May 17, 1996 | Go to article overview

War Crime Tribunal Shows Hopes, Failings


Newspaper photos of Dusan Tadic show a clean-cut young man in white shirt and tie. He used to run a restaurant before he became a policeman in the former Yugoslavia. Last week, this seemingly ordinary young man became the first defendant at the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, the first since the Nazis were tried after World War II.

Tadic -- he was known locally as Dusko -- is one of only 57 indicted SD far for Bosnian war atrocities. Of these only six others are in custody, a drop in the bloody bucket. And Dusko is only small fry, his court-appointed lawyers say. A scapegoat. Also indicted are bigger fry we know better from television, such as Radovan Karadzic, the politician with the expansive hair, and Gen. Ratko Mladic, leader of the Bosnian Serb forces. A still bigger fish, Serb President Slobodan Milosevic, who, many say, fomented the carnage from the start, has not been indicted; he its now portrayed rather as a broker of peace by the international media.

These trials by the U.N. tribunal place us at yet another crossroads on the seemingly short road from savagery to civilization. The international community took multiple wrong turns at earlier crossroads. Several of the earth's most powerful nations played at peacemaking in Bosnia while centuries of hatred boiled and overflowed into acts of horror by Croats, Bosnians and especially Serbs.

We are poised, we hope, on the brink of some new world order in which torture and rape and killing would be so unpopular, so condemned, so punished that even powerful nations would not risk the recriminations and petty nations like Serbia wouldn't entertain the temptation for a moment.

However, instead of pursuing this vision, the powerful interests and big nations looked the other way. There was not the political will nor long-range wisdom to take risks and grasp the moment. In this way, permission was given not only to the Serbs but also to the Hutus of Rwanda and the warlords of Namibia and others like them to rule by cruelty. …

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