MY WAY OR NO WAY
BY RICHARD BYRNE
For nearly a decade now, the countries of the former Yugoslavia have been under siege over the extradition of indicted war criminals to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). At times, the United States has threatened to withhold foreign aid to Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Croatia for not cooperating with the ICTY. For its part, the European Union (EU) has made cooperation with the ICTY a criterion for admission.
Yet even with these powerful sticks and carrots, Balkan countries have been slow to cooperate. Croatia resisted the extradition of Janko Bobetko — one of the generals who masterminded 1995’s Operation Storm, which resulted in the ethnic cleansing of Croatian Serbs and numerous other deaths; the general died a free man on April 29. Serbia has dragged its heels on extraditing General Ratko Mladic, the architect of the 1995 Srebrenica massacres. And former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic has been spotted in both Bosnia and Montenegro.
Yet efforts to round up the indicted war criminals sought by the ICTY, thus bringing the Balkans into compliance with international law, are being undermined by US antagonism to the latest arm of international justice — the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Soon after taking over the White House in 2001, the Bush administration withdrew the US’s signature from the international treaty that authorized the court, and the US has been an implacable foe of the ICC ever since. As it did last year, shortly after the ICC became operational, the Bush White House is now seeking to strong-arm countries — including the same nations it is pressuring to cooperate with the ICTY — into granting US troops blanket exemptions from extradition to the ICC.
Some Southeastern European nations have already signed on to the deal, including Romania and Albania — and the US scored its biggest exemption coup yet when Bosnia-Herzegovina signed an ICC exemption treaty with the US on May 16. But other Balkan nations — including Croatia and Serbia — have yet to sign, despite strong US pressure to do so. According to a report in the May 26 issue of the journal Transitions Online, US ambassador to Croatia Lawrence Rossin has warned that country that it may lose up to $19 million in US aid to restructure its army.
Croatia is balking not only because of the hypocrisy of the US move for an ICC exemption, but also because of its aspirations to join the EU. Leaders of the EU have pressured Balkan countries that want to join a united Europe not to sign such agreements.
In a recent press conference in Bosnia, US deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz argued that " the United States is not seeking any immunity for its people if they commit war crimes. War crimes must be prosecuted, and if they’re not prosecuted in the jurisdiction where they took place, the United States government has and will prosecute Americans that we believe have committed war crimes. We simply don’t believe that the ICC, which has no political supervision over it, is a fair or appropriate mechanism to submit American soldiers or peacekeepers to. "
But war crimes are clearly offenses that resist self-judgment and thus require an impartial and international forum for their fair adjudication. The US pressure on Balkan countries to defy the ICC — and at the same time to submit to international justice — sends precisely the wrong message to fledgling post-conflict democracies: that might makes its own rights — and denies the victims of war crimes impartial justice.
Issue Date: May 30 - June 5, 2003
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