Can Justice be Served if Defendants Don't Appear?
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The war crimes trials after World War II featured notorious icons of brutality like Goering and Tojo, who tried to impose a savage new world order for the Axis powers. When the first international war crimes trial since then gets under way Tuesday, the defendant will be no bigwig — just Dusan Tadic, a small-time Bosnian Serb bar owner accused of being a free-lance executioner and torturer. “My opinion is that it is a very heavy weapon to deal with a very small nut,” said Lord Hartley Shawcross, Britain’s chief prosecutor of Nazi leaders at the Nuremberg trials.
Set up by the U.N. Security Council after international revulsion at atrocities in the Bosnian conflict, the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague models itself after the Nuremberg and Tokyo war crimes courts. Those tribunals tried the likes of Hitler’s air force chief, Hermann Goering, and Japan’s wartime prime minister, Hideki Tojo. But when Texas jurist Gabrielle Kirk McDonald opens proceedings carried live by Court TV, the outlook is clouded for such ranking policy-makers ever sitting in the defendants’ dock.
Although atrocities have been attributed to all sides in Bosnia, most such crimes during the four-year conflict were blamed on Serbs. But Serbia, the dominant state in the shrunken Yugoslav federation, and the Bosnian Serbs have refused to cooperate with the tribunal. That means Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic roam free in Bosnian Serb-controlled territory beyond reach of the tribunal, which charged them with genocide.
Tadic, 39, was arrested after he emigrated to Germany in 1993 and was identified by Bosnian Muslim refugees. He is charged with crimes against humanity — more than 16 murders of Bosnian Muslims as well as horrendous cases of torture. Shawcross, 94, remembers Nuremberg as “a well conducted trial against people who were responsible for serious crimes against international law.”
The difference now is that the post-World War II tribunals were conducted by victorious powers. Confiscated evidence was at their fingertips. High-ranking suspects were in custody. The Yugoslav tribunal has in custody only five of 57 suspects indicted. Concrete evidence is hard to find. What there is is scattered and fragmentary. Potential witnesses are often afraid of reprisals in a political situation that is still explosive.
The highest-ranking suspect now in custody is Gen. Tihomir Blaskic, a former leader of the Bosnian Croat militia held responsible for a wave killings in the Muslim-dominated Lasva valley in central Bosnia in 1993. He gave himself up to clear his name.
Shawcross, one of the few surviving officials from the Nuremberg trials, wanted a permanent war crimes court established after Nuremberg. “The public must be very much more conscious of what has been going on and the sort of crimes that have been committed,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press. McDonald, the American judge who heads the three-judge panel trying Tadic, agrees it is time the 1948 Paris Convention Against Genocide was put to the test. “If you have a law that is not enforced, I think that’s worse than having no law,” she said in an interview. “I want people to understand there are limits to behavior even though there is war.”
At Nuremberg, 22 top Nazis were prosecuted. Ten were hanged, three got life sentences, four served shorter jail terms and three were acquitted. Hitler deputy Martin Bormann disappeared before he could be arrested and was sentenced to death in absentia. Goering cheated the hangman by suicide. Of the 28 Japanese leaders tried in Tokyo, all were found guilty. Seven were hanged, 16 got life terms and two more got shorter terms. One defendant went insane and avoided sentencing. Two died of natural causes during the trials.
There will be no death sentences handed down by the 11-judge Hague tribunal. The maximum sentence it can impose is life imprisonment.
War Crimes Profile: Dusan Tadic
International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia from the United Nations
Coalition for International Justice
Reports concerning human rights abuses in Bosnia published by Intac Access
Major War Criminals/Suspects from CalTech's Bosnia Site
Reports on War Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia from CalTech's Bosnia Site
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