World Needs War-Crimes Tribunal - but Watch Out

National Catholic Reporter, March 5, 1993 | Go to article overview

World Needs War-Crimes Tribunal - but Watch Out


Two cheers for the United Nations decision, Feb. 22, to establish a war crimes tribunal to deal with the former Yugoslavia. It comes, according to most reports, at least 20,000 rapes too late, and thousands of mutilations and murders too late. Still, it could be a step toward stopping the post-cold War world from a headlong descent into barbarism.

The three main warring factions -- Croats, Muslims and Serbs -- have all been accused of atrocities, and there seems plenty of evidence, if only there is the will, to nail many of the perpetrators. While not all Serbs are guilty, obviously, the Serb savagery has nevertheless been so overwhelming as to make those perpetrators an abomination around the world for ages to come. Crimes have consequences.

The fact that all factions are refighting old wars, including the Hitler war, should have been a reminder and warning to everyone that the hate that goes around comes around. Hate is blind, however, as is rampant nationalism, and this is why the U.N. intervention is irreplaceable.

There are convoluted historical and political reasons why it took almost half a century after Nuremburg to take this step again. We may be, in other words, at a pivotal moment. The will to continue the journey that has been so tentatively begun is vital. The tribunal should not be allowed to melt into a public-relations exercise, should not be bartered as a bargaining chip in the search for peace.

Nations, preoccupied with their own problems, prefer, in cases like this, to arrange a quick fix and put the whole nasty mess behind them. …

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