The less-than-modest American diplomat who brokered the 1995 Dayton accords to end the war in Bosnia, Richard Holbrooke, did more than anyone else to persuade the Clinton administration that Yugoslavia’s president, Slobodan Milosevic, could be trusted. Holbrooke did so even though Milosevic had risen to power upon a nationalist agenda that led Yugoslavia’s Serbian forces to start no less than three wars of ethnic aggression. He did so even though the Dayton accords’ provisions for the repatriation of displaced ethnic minorities were not accompanied by any enforcement teeth. And he did so even though the accords allowed indicted war criminals to remain free and left intact Milosevic’s forces in Yugoslavia, along with those of their ethnic Serbian allies in neighboring Bosnia.
But now Milosevic has begun (and lost) his fourth ethnic conflict in this decade, a civil war over Yugoslavia’s southern province of Kosovo. He and his ethnic allies have flouted their promises to allow non-Serbs displaced from previous, international wars to return to their homelands in either Repuplika Srpska, the Serbian entity of the nation of Bosnia, or Yugoslavia. And he along with other leaders like the noted paramilitary commander, Zeljko Raznjatovic or “Arkan,” stand indicted by a U.N. court for their alleged crimes against humanity.
Finally, Clinton administration officials have come to see Milosevic differently.
“There is more resolution within the government on carrying this [trial] through to its completion than before,” says one senior State Department official. “The answer is yes, we want to see him tried,” he adds. “But the question is how?”
President Clinton himself has ruled out any military efforts to try and apprehend Milosevic in Yugoslavia, although he is withholding all U.S. aid for its reconstruction as long as the Serbian nationalists remain in power. Clinton administration officials along with human-rights advocates hope that the Yugoslavian opposition will act soon to not only depose Milosevic but also to turn him over to the ad hoc U.N.-established International Criminal Tribunal at the Hague, where since May he has been wanted for trial. “My hope is that [Yugoslav] people will eventually realize that he is a liability,” says Nina Bang-Jensen of the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition for International Justice.
How will Clinton handle Milosevic?
The anti-Milosevic movement, however, already is divided over whether to hand Milosevic over to The Hague to stand trial. Some opposition leaders including Zoran Djindjic, the former mayor of Belgrade, have said they would do so; one of his rivals for control of the movement, Vuk Draskovic, who served in Milosevic’s government throughout most of the Kosovo war, said this week that he would not. Meanwhile, other opposition leaders have said they would only try him at home. Many Serbs oppose Milosevic not because of his attempts to “cleanse” ethnic Albanians from Kosovo but only because he failed in the end to expand greater Serbia, according to one international official who does not expect opposition forces, even if they take power, to give Milosevic up for trial.
What would NATO do then? “The United States will have to make a choice,” the State Department official says, pointing out that a new Yugoslavian government might still protect Milosevic or otherwise allow him to avoid prosecution by letting him flee to a country such as Belarus, Cyprus or Iraq.
“What sort of deals are NATO governments willing to make to get Milosevic out of power?” the official asks.
Human-rights advocates ask the same thing. “Any sort of deal that would shield him from prosecution would be a disappointment,” Gay Gardner of Amnesty International says.
A movement toward international justice
Milosevic is not only the first acting head of state to be indicted by an international tribunal since World War II; he is the first to be charged with committing abuses within his own nation’s borders. Milosevic faces three counts of crimes against humanity and one count of violating the laws or customs of war over his forces’ actions in Yugoslavia’s Kosovo. The U.N. Security Council established the ad-hoc tribunal for the Balkans upon the premise that crimes against humanity are universal offenses that transcend national boundaries.
The notion that national sovereignty is not inviolate in such cases, although relatively novel, seems to be gaining pace. After Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, the U.N. Security Council expanded the ad-hoc tribunal for the Balkans to also establish an ad-hoc tribunal for Rwanda. Spain, too, recently has been arguing to the United Kingdom that crimes against humanity are universal, as it demands from Great Britain the extradition of the former head of yet a third state, the retired Chilean General Augusto Pinochet, who Spain alleges is responsible for crimes against humanity in Chile.
“Justice is an essential ingredient of any long-term peace process and stability,” Gardner maintains.
An international pariah
But whether justice will come to the perpetrators of war crimes throughout the Balkans remains in doubt. Out of 70 individuals who have so far been indicted by the ad-hoc U.N. tribunal at The Hague, 36 including Milosevic and “Arkan” remain at large.
While the Bosnian or Muslim-dominated entity within the nation of Bosnia has cooperated in apprehending and extraditing its suspects, the nation of Croatia only began turning over suspects after coming under intense international pressure including the withholding of IMF and World Bank loans. Meanwhile, Serbian authorities in both Republika Serpska and Yugoslavia have yet to turn over any suspects (although a mob in Republika Serpska did spontaneously turn over one). Croatia continues to protect one suspect, while Republika Serpska continues to harbor 25 indictees and Yugoslavia shelters 10.
Western governments, too, have been reluctant to apprehend war-crimes suspects, human-rights groups charge. British, French, and American troops assigned to the Western “stabilization” or peacekeeping force in Bosnia, which followed the Dayton accords, have apprehended only seven of 26 suspects believed to be living within their respective areas of responsibility. The most notorious figure among them is the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic who is still believed to be residing in the French military zone within Republika Srpska.
The failure to apprehend suspects indicted over previous wars in the Balkans does not bode well for the prospects of apprehending Milosevic. Nonetheless, human-rights groups see his indictment as a big step forward. “The man is a prisoner in his own country,” says Holly Burkhalter, the former Human Rights Watch advocate who now represents Physicians for Human Rights. Milosevic can no longer safely travel outside Yugoslavia except to the few nations that would be willing to protect him, and Switzerland has frozen his bank accounts.
Many veteran Balkans observers say momentum is building toward more forceful action against other suspects as well. Human-rights advocates and State Department officials alike say that Karadzic, in particular, could still be captured by Western troops within the Serbian entity of Bosnia. “He’s changing bedrooms every night. He’s got armed security guards,” says the senior official. “You can’t really mount a military operation to apprehend Milosevic. But with Karadzic it is much more feasible.”
Still the issue of how to make Milosevic stand trial remains unresolved. He is the suspect most observers blame for fueling the Balkans’ decade-long cycle of ethnic violence, and now at least he no longer enjoys either the legitimacy or the immunity that he was once extended through the international community’s endorsement of the Dayton accords.
“He’s a pariah,” Burkhalter says. Yet he remains at large.
Frank Smyth, a freelance journalist who has also served as an investigative consultant for Human Rights Watch as well as Amnesty International, is a contributor to Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know, edited by Roy Gutman and David Rieff.