The Crimes of Bosnia: Will We Have to Choose between Peace and Justice?

Article excerpt

A RECENT HUDDLE between U.S. peace negotiator Richard Holbrooke and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic illustrated a key problem of holding Balkans war-crimes trials. At one point in the meeting, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic complained he couldn't attend the upcoming peace talks in Dayton, Ohio, because of his indictment by the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia as a war criminal. "Mr. Karadzic," one of the American negotiators deadpanned, "you're welcome to come to the United States. And if you do, we'll arrest you."

In trying to shut down the Balkan crisis, the West has to sit across the peace table from at least two of the 42 Serbs indicted as war criminals--Karadzic and the Bosnian Serbs' top general, Ratko Mladic, without whose cooperation the war will grind on and on. Those two major players in the conflict may never come to trial for another reason: there are no clear Bosnian victors, as there were at Nuremberg, to force the vanquished to hand over suspects and bring them to justice. Plagued by financial problems, the tribunal is just getting underway, two years after its formation in The Hague. And it may be three years or more before the trial of the first suspect, alleged death-squad leader Dusan Tadic, is completed.

None of that matters, says one of the tribunal's two presiding judges, Gabrielle Kirk-McDonald, a former U.S. federal judge. "Success should not be measured in trying dozens and dozens of people," she argues. "Our success is that we're the first international tribunal to apply the [Nuremberg principles] that have been on the books and not enforced for 50 years. "

The problem of how to make peace in partnership with accused war criminals has plagued the Bosnian negotiations throughout. …