Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

First International War Trial since Ww II to Start

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

First International War Trial since Ww II to Start

Article excerpt

THE FIRST international war crimes tribunal since World War II opens today.

Former U.S. District Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald of Houston will preside over a three-judge panel trying a Bosnian Serb prison guard for murder, rape and torture - the world's first attempt to try violations of international humanitarian law.

Previous war crimes trials were set up by victorious nations, like the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials after World War II. But this tribunal was put together by the U.N. Security Council in response to international outrage at the atrocities in Bosnia.

Unlike the tribunals in Nuremberg and Tokyo, this tribunal is not permitted to hand out death sentences and may not try suspects in absentia. The maximum sentence is life imprisonment.

The first defendant, Dusan Tadic, is not the big fish U.N. prosecutors had hoped to catch. Far from the commanders accused of ordering thousands killed, Tadic is an alleged thug-for-hire accused of killing and torturing Muslim inmates at a Serb-run prison camp.

Nevertheless, his trial may help bring some of the 56 other war crimes suspects before the tribunal. In the long run, McDonald hopes, the tribunal will pave the way for a permanent international war crimes court.

"These international rules of human behavior have not been enforced for 50 years," she says. "It would be a real void if it wasn't carried on, because I'm afraid that inevitably there are going to be conflicts. They are not going to stop with the former Yugoslavia."

One of two women among the tribunal's 11 judges, McDonald, 53, plans to draw on her background as a lawyer during the U.S. civil rights movement. Her work with the NAACP's Legal Defense and Educational Fund gave her experience with new laws - something she'll need in The Hague.

Rape As War Crime

Rape will be tried as a war crime for the first time. The 1948 Paris Genocide Convention will be put to the test for the first time. And the tribunal also will prosecute breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions forbidding mistreatment of prisoners of war or civilians.

The NATO-led peace force in Bosnia, although virtually an occupying power, has steadfastly refused to arrest those indicted on charges of war crimes. …

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