Today's date:
Spring 2001

Will Belgrade Cooperate with The Hague?

Carla del Ponte is the Chief Prosecutor of the UN International Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. She spoke with NPQ after returning from Belgrade in January.

Belgrade will not cooperate. They told me we have no role here. If Milosevic is ever to be tried, they say it will never be in The Hague-only in Belgrade. Their explanations varied: "The situation is dangerous." "Cooperation would add another element of destabilization." "Those prosecuted by the UN would become heroes." "The tribunal is in service to the United States." "We cannot cooperate because of NATO bombing, in which Serbs were the victims."
This is a great deception on their part.

During the war, NATO advised Milosevic ahead of time that the television station in Belgrade would be bombed.
Milosevic then only told some of the directors, but he did not inform the working technicians so they could leave. So Milosevic himself obliged people to stay in the building, knowing it would be bombed so he could manipulate the situation against NATO.

Our preliminary review of that bombing incident has come to the conclusion that there is insufficient cause so far to open an inquiry. We have asked the Serbian authorities for more evidence, and if there is cause to open an inquiry, we will do it. But this is not my priority.

I have to say, I am surprised that this issue of NATO bombing arises all the time. How can this be a priority when each time I visit Bosnia-Herzegovina or go to Kosovo, I observe the exhumation of thousands of bodies from mass graves?
Our priority is prosecuting genocide and crimes against humanity. Karadzic, Milosevic and Mladic must be put on trial. That is our goal now.
Of course, the 16 dead from the NATO bombing are not unimportant, but they cannot be my priority.

I told the Serbian foreign minister that we don't oppose the idea of a "truth and reconciliation commission" like that in South Africa if it entails investigations that will produce evidence about war crimes.

My fear is that such a commission will be used as some kind of a substitute for indictments. And I made clear to the foreign minister that such a commission could not replace actions of justice. I told him that we could only proceed on both tracks-reconciliation, yes, but also justice.

If the international community does not follow its words with action, future dictators will be able to run and hide. If the world does not take collective action against these leaders, they might not even take the trouble to run and hide because they know that they can remain inside their own borders with impunity. They will gamble that if, one day, things go wrong and they lose power, the political will to bring them to justice does not exist.

If my recent visit to Belgrade is any indication, it seems that national sovereignty is still a strong factor-it has not changed. Narrow state interests still dominate, and collective action is a problem.

Clearly, the International Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda should be the starting point, not the high point, of the move for justice against dictators and war criminals.

Even if they can still hide, we must do what we can to make their lives as unpleasant as possible by freezing bank accounts, investigating business connections and issuing international arrest warrants that deters them from traveling abroad.
As we look at the status of the proposed International Criminal Court, I am concerned that states-in their own narrow interests-are beginning to recoil from the idea of international justice. But if we lose our nerve now, it may take centuries to recover the resolve to assert law over violence. And that will simply pile tragedy upon tragedy in the times to come.

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