Leading article: A late, but crucial, test for international justice

Until the judgment on Ratko Mladic has been pronounced, the Bosnian war will not be truly over

Share
Related Topics

The massacre of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995 was the most heinous crime of the Bosnian war. That it could take place on a continent which fancied it had consigned to the past the atrocities of the Second World War made it all the more shocking. The failure of hopelessly outnumbered UN peacekeepers to guarantee the safety of so many of the civilians they were deployed to protect placed a portion of the blame on the international community, and forced a rethinking of peace-keeping and protection operations everywhere.

But the central blame for Srebrenica and the many other crimes of the Bosnian war lies with those who engaged in the slaughter and, above all, with those who ordered or orchestrated it. This is what makes the trial of Ratko Mladic, commander of the Bosnian Serb army at the time, the epochal event that it is, and why so many – not only in the former Yugoslavia – are pinning their hopes on the International Criminal Tribunal at The Hague to deliver justice.

It is true that, even if the court moves at a reasonable pace, justice will have been a shamefully long time in coming. Almost two decades have passed since the Dayton Accords brought an uneasy peace to Bosnia. General Mladic was on the run for the best part of 15 years, sheltered – it must be presumed – by like-minded fellow countrymen. And it is not only the surviving relatives of the dead who will resent the fact that he managed to spend his prime years at liberty, facing justice as an already elderly man. His victims did not have that luxury.

If, as it appears, his belated arrest was triggered ultimately by the European Union's stipulation that Serbia could not become a member while General Mladic and the Bosnian Serbs' political leader, Radovan Karadzic, were at large, that says something about the continued appeal of the EU to those outside, but something, too, about the residual support that the Bosnian Serb cause still enjoyed. The resolution of this conflict remains far from complete.

Which is another reason why the trial of General Mladic takes on such significance. The death of the Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, in custody before his trial was over, left justice grievously undone. The trial of Mr Karadzic, now in its third year, may eventually produce a verdict, but has suffered many adjournments and delays. On the face of it, the case against General Mladic – pared down to 11 charges, including war crimes and genocide – would appear to be by some way the strongest. It was he, the prosecutor claimed yesterday, who controlled the shelling of Sarajevo; he who orchestrated the killings at Srebrenica; he who oversaw the ethnic cleansing that drove hundreds of thousands from their homes.

Like Mr Karadzic, General Mladic is pleading not guilty. He is also showing open contempt for the court. His defence is expected to mount numerous challenges, and he is not a well man. So far, the tribunal has not covered itself in glory. These two cases constitute a crucial test, not just for the ability of an international court to hold war criminals to account, but for reconciliation in this part of former Yugoslavia. Until all the evidence has been aired and the judgment pronounced, there is no prospect of this conflict being considered closed.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate Pricing Analyst - 6 months / 1 year analytical experience

£20000 - £25000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Year 2 Teachers needed for day to day supply

£110 - £130 per day + Competitve rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Yea...

Year 4 Teachers needed for day to day supply across the region

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Ye...

Nursery Teachers needed for supply roles

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Nu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A homeless person sleeps in the streets  

This is why I am sleeping rough outside the party conferences

Max J Freeman
Strikes were carried out by manned air force and navy aircraft (File photo)  

Syria air strikes: President Assad now has the enemy he always wanted – Islamist terrorism

Kim Sengupta
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits