Justice for all sides but not for all individuals

Jeffrey Kuhner of the Washington Times, who is writing a book about the Croatian-Serbian conflict, describes how the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (the ICTY) is reconsidering its indictment against the former Croatian general who liberated territory annexed by Serbian rebels loyal to Slobadan Milosevic. In doing so, he delivers his own indictment against the ICTY and, I would argue, against modern war crimes tribunals in general.
General Ante Gotovina was indicted for “command responsibility” over a 1995 military campaign known as “Operation Storm.” This operation was supported by the Clinton administration because, if successful, it was expected to avert ethnic cleansing on the part of the Serbs and to put an end to the territorial aspirations of Milosevic. The operation was successful. However, in its aftermath hundreds of civilians were murdered and much property was destroyed. According to Kuhner, though, nearly all of the criminal actions were undertaken either by Serbs or by returning civilians and roving Croatian paramilitaries seeking revenge — not by the Croatian army. And, again according to Kuhner, to the extent that Croatian soldiers did commit isolated atrocities, Gen. Gotovina had them tried by military tribunals and sentenced to prison terms. The ICTY apparently has finally reached the same conclusions as Kuhner regarding this matter, and is reportedly on the verge of dropping the charges.
But why was the indictment rendered in the first place? Kuhner argues that it was poliltically motivated — the chief prosecutor had been accused of bias against Serbs and needed to indict a high level Croatian in order to demonstrate her balance. Gen. Gotovina, says Kuhner, was the victim.
If so, this would be consistent with my understanding (based on my admittedly limited involvement with the ICTY) of how things typically proceed at the Hague. These courts are not primarily concerned with individual justice. Rather, their concern is with appearing to be politically even-handed, probably in order to maintain political viability and so increase their acceptance and ultimately their jurisdiction. This would be unacceptable even in an international environment where politics were not wildly skewed against our interests and our norms. In the international environment that exists today, so clearly on display during the run-up to the war in Iraq and in all things relating to Israel, the U.S. would be crazy to become a party to this sort of “justice.”


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