Sharks escape as The Hague tries a minnow

The case of The World v Dusan Tadic is likely to drag on for at least six months. It took the World two days last week to tire of the case, and its numbing litany of evil, and turn its attention elsewhere.

Mr Tadic, a Serbian small-town bully and, allegedly, mass murderer, is the first defendant in an international war crimes trial since the end of the Second World War. A former cafe owner who looks like a slimmer version of Rene from Allo, Allo, he made an unimpressive figure as he slumped nervously in his seat in the court in The Hague.

Whatever the extent of his guilt - the murder of at least 16 Muslims in 1992, according to the prosecutors - Mr Tadic was no more than a monstrous tadpole in a pool of sharks. No one is suggesting that he organised the genocidal mania - ethnic cleansing, torture, rape, mass execution - which swept Bosnia in the spring of 1992. The murderers-in-chief, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, lurk still in Serb-held parts of Bosnia, seemingly immune to any attempt by the international peace-enforcement armies to apprehend them.

The political impresario of ethnic cleansing, President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, has become virtually a trusted friend of the West. He is the man who ended our embarrassment in the Balkans by making the Dayton peace agreement possible; he is the man that we still need to make the agreement stick. Karadzic and Mladic have been indicted by the tribunal in The Hague but there seems little prospect of them being tried, except in absentia. Milosevic - the man who scientifically fomented the climate of terror and ethnic hatred in Bosnia in 1992 - has not, and will not, be indicted.

Why has the world's moral outrage descended on Dusan Tadic? In what sense can he - a civilian, who allegedly murdered his neighbours - be said to have been involved in "war" crimes?

The tribunal offers several arguments. Tadic fell into the hands of the international community when he was arrested in Germany in 1994. A considerable body of evidence, including 100 eye-witnesses, points to his guilt. Surely he had to be tried - should the world just turn a blind eye to the allegations?

Secondly, through the Tadic case, and others to follow, the tribunal will be able to build a "pyramid of evidence" which will reconstruct the scope and horror of the worst atrocities seen in Europe since 1945. By prosecuting the executioners, it will be able to make its case against the people who gave the orders.

The tribunal also claims an intrinsic virtue in assembling and dissecting the events in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995, in a legalistic and formal way. Judge Richard Goldstone, the South African chief prosecutor, believes this will help the world to understand what happened and prevent it occurring again.

There is more. The prosecutors and judges are in the business of creating international law. Like a train laying its own tracks, the tribunal is making its own jurisprudence as it goes along. The Nuremberg and Japanese war crimes trials are regarded as a model of a kind, but inevitably tainted by the accusation that they were a trial of the defeated by the conquerors. The Hague tribunal, it is hoped, will create a surer moral and legal code on which to found future trials - and a precedent that such actions amount to a crime not just in one state, but against humanity.

All of this is admirable... But it is a huge, historic weight to heap on the shoulders of a 40-year-old cafe-owning, karate expert, whatever the final evidence of his guilt.

If the real perpetrators of the Bosnian genocide go free, what will The Hague have proved? If Dusan Tadic is jailed for life, but Karadzic and Mladic escape, will that prevent another Bosnia or Rwanda? Will it halt the gathering civil warfare in Burundi?

There is no point in creating a body of law against genocide unless we are prepared to enforce it. The deterrent effect of all laws is based on the likelihood of detection and the certainty of punishment. Jailing a few low-level individuals is just a balm for the world's conscience. In this case, we have an opportunity to go for the head of the snake: realpolitik, the need to preserve the Dayton peace, dictates that we will not.

The lesson will be the same as at Nuremberg: war crimes will only be punished if you lose the war. Even a score-draw like Bosnia is enough to keep Mladic, Karadzic and Milosevic safe.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum