NATO in Kosovo: The Legal View - Only Sanctions Will Force out Milosev Ic's Gang Serbian Leaders and Soldiers Must Be Put on Trial for the Crimes They Have Committed against Humanity

By Robertson, Geoffrey | The Independent (London, England), June 2, 1999 | Go to article overview
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NATO in Kosovo: The Legal View - Only Sanctions Will Force out Milosev Ic's Gang Serbian Leaders and Soldiers Must Be Put on Trial for the Crimes They Have Committed against Humanity


Robertson, Geoffrey, The Independent (London, England)


When Richard Dimbleby told the world about the horrors of Belsen concentration camp, there were victims still alive to testify against political criminals rounded up as the allies advanced. Today the BBC broadcasts from the mass graves and torture centres of Kosovo, mocked by the unrepentant perpetrators of these crimes against humanity as they drive to safety in Serbia.

There can be no peace without justice, and the moral purpose of this war has been betrayed by the Nato diplomats who failed to insist, as a condition for stopping the bombing, on Serbian surrender of its war-crimes suspects.

This was, after all, a war aim clearly and repeatedly stated by the British Prime Minister. Yet today, as investigators and forensic scientists begin the long and laborious task of disinterring and then identifying the bodies, the prospect of ever bringing their murderers to justice seems remote. There they go - lorryloads of Serbian soldiers, gesturing obscenely at bereaved families and shouting defiant confessions to the number of Kosovars they killed. In any sane world, they would all be in custody - under interrogation and on identity parades. Instead, they go back to protect their leader, Slobodan Milosevic, and their army's high command from facing the indictments that await them in the Hague courtroom. Nato deliberately and disastrously omitted any provision for justice from the peace accord brokered by the naive Finnish president, Martti Ahtisaari. There was a specific clause in the Dayton agreement of 1995 (which ended hostilities with the Bosnian Serbs) requiring co-operation with the Hague tribunal: this embarrassed Nato as it consistently refused to order the arrests of indicted leaders such as Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic. Its fear, ironically, was that any trial might reveal them as puppets of Mr Milosevic, the real architect of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, whose impunity was regarded as necessary for negotiations. But it is too early to despair of retribution, at least for the Serbian leaders who are principally responsible for the mass graves. International criminal law has a principle of "command responsibility" established in the case against General Yamashita, whose Japanese troops committed similar outrages in the Philippines at the close of the Second World War. Leaders who connive at mass killings - by failing to stop them or taking no action to prevent them - are as guilty as those who directly order them. This is the legal basis for the indictment of Mr Milosevic and his five top generals. The international arrest warrant will mean that they must skulk all their lives in Serbia, or find a Baghdad bolt-hole.

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NATO in Kosovo: The Legal View - Only Sanctions Will Force out Milosev Ic's Gang Serbian Leaders and Soldiers Must Be Put on Trial for the Crimes They Have Committed against Humanity
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