Tag: Serbia

Notorious BIG Fish: Mladic and Munyagishari

The capture of Ratko Mladic and his pending transfer to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has become another boon for international justice in a year where war criminals seem to be dropping like flies. But there’s an interesting debate to be had over whether this arrest signals a stronger commitment to end impunity on principle or its combined success with political and pragmatic imperatives. Of course, it’s both. Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch argues that the international community’s “principled pressure for justice” worked with Serbia – and the pressure came from conditioning Serbia’s EU accession on Mladic’s arrest. Similarly, Geert-Jan Knoops argues that Serbia’s action to finally arrest him was based on “political and economic motivations” – irrespective of the international community’s more normative appeals for holding Mladic accountable.

And hidden amongst the media and diplomatic excitement over Mladic was the important news about the arrest of Bernard Munyagishari by Congolese authorities in the DRC. Munyagishari is wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) for genocide and crimes against humanity committed in the 1994 genocide. He is alleged to have been the leader of the Interahamwe (an extremist youth militia) in the Gisenyi region of western Rwanda, responsible for training Interahamwe and ordering mass killings and rapes. There is little controversy over his arrest – it’s a victory for both the ICTR and the Rwandan government. Of course, there’s a pragmatic element at play here too. The presence of many former genocidaires in the Kivus in the DRC (Munyagishari was arrested in North Kivu) has been a significant source of insecurity and been used to justify Rwanda’s military engagement in the region. Impunity and conflict are intricately linked in this region.

That there are pragmatic reasons for and benefits to arresting war criminals, however, does not undermine the apparent trend of a principled commitment to end impunity. They’re often, but not always, mutually reinforcing.

Beyond the Big Fish….
In accordance with their mandates, the ICTR and ICTY have been successful in trying a broad swath of those considered “most responsible” for core crimes (such as Milosevic, Karadzic, etc. for ICTY and Bagosora, recently Bizimungu, etc. for ICTR). The ICTR has completed 46 judgments (including 8 acquittals) and 9 fugitives remain at large. The ICTY has completed 77 judgments (including 13 acquittals) and only one fugitive remains at large (Hadzic).

Apprehending the “big fish” is an important but not sole measure of success for international tribunals. It’s essential to look beyond indictments and arrests to the impact of trials on truth and reconciliation – the murkier and loftier goals of transitional justice that we can’t really measure. The trials of Mladic and Munyagishari will contribute to the already well established historical records of the systematic and systemic nature of atrocities. In both cases, their crimes are already well known and their guilt almost certain (especially for Mladic, as some of those operating under his command have already been tried and convicted). Just as important, their trials may help counter denial and individualize guilt – both necessary to combat Serb ultra-nationalist support for those like Mladic and what remains of political and military Hutu extremism in the DRC.

The impact of trials on reconciliation, however, deserves a healthy dose of skepticism. An EU representative made a statement that the arrest “will bring down barriers to reconciliation in Bosnia-Herzegovina.” This may be possible at a national or regional level – whereby reconciliation between those victimized by the Srebrenica genocide and the Serbian government would be thin without Mladic’s arrest.

In Rwanda, despite the ICTR’s mandate reference to reconciliation, the local population is largely dismissive and indifferent to the ICTR. The elite perpetrators that appear in its courtrooms are less well known to Rwandans and the process is physically and culturally remote to them (as compared to the trials in the local Gacaca courts). While many applaud Munyagishari’s arrest, it’s worth waiting to see whether his victims in Gisenyi consider this a meaningful form of justice.

(cross-posted at Global Transitional Justice)

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EU Wins One, Right?

With Serbia arresting the last big PIFWC (person indicted for war crime–my favorite NATO acronym)–Ratko Mladic (see my post about the previous arrest, of Karadzic), does this mean that I was wrong about the power of conditionality?  That is, the Steve and Bill book argues that we ought not overestimate the threats organizations like the European Union or NATO make about conditions for membership.  We argue there and elsewhere that the requirements are unenforced (Cyprus gets in despite not settling its ethnic problems, Romania and Bulgaria get in with their shaky rule of law); that the rules do not apply to members so that once you are in, you can go back to violating the rules; and so on.

But Serbia seems to have knuckled under to EU pressure and will be sending Mladic to The Hague stand trial for genocide, ethnic cleansing and all the rest.  But the pressure has been applied since 1995.  Can we say that conditionality worked if it took 16 years?  Oh, and enlargement is probably not a realistic option right now since the EU is focused on its own internal crises (driven by past poor decisions about ignoring conditions–letting Greece and others into the Euro zone).  So, the timing here is interesting–submitting to the PIFWC conditions when the conditions are least relevant, as opposed to earlier when other countries were in the queue to join the EU (despite not meeting other conditions).

I have not been following Serbia’s politics closely, but this is still a very important decision, whether it is to suck up to the EU or not.  After all, a preceding leader of Serbia, Zoran Djindjić, was assassinated after sending Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague.  So, the stakes are quite high domestically.  Mladic was reputedly more popular than Karadzic, especially among Serbia’s military and police.  If there are no nasty consequences from this, then this is an important development for civilian control of the military and Serbia’s democratization. 

Getting Mladic to stand trial for his crimes is a big victory for Bosnia, for Serbia, and for justice.  I just am not sure that the EU had a lot to do with it.

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Going to court

Serbia is going to the World Court today to ask for an advisory opinion on the independence of Kosovo. The US and most of the EU has recognized a new Kosovar state; Russia, Serbia, and most of the rest of the world has not. The Serbian Foreign Minister observed that the decision to go to court marked a “paradigm shift…the first time in the history of the Balkans that somebody

has decided to resolve an issue of significance using exclusively peaceful means.” That’s a bit of a stretch. Serbia’s ambassador to France said that Kosovo’s declaration, as well as its recognition, “is a challenge to the international legal order, based as it is on the principles of state sovereignty and territorial integrity.” He’s right.

That’s really what’s at issue here. A Serbian friend of mine constantly reminded me during the Kosovo War that what NATO was doing was a violation of fundamental legal norms, and while he was right he never quite grasped that his point may be increasingly irrelevant. The norms are changing. What are the new norms, and how will they emerge? An advisory opinion of the ICJ isn’t going to settle these issues, but it might have some influence on the debate. Keep watching.

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Serbian government dissolves

Ellie Tzortzi of Reuters:

The coalition government of Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica was formally dissolved on Monday, opening the way for an early parliamentary election.

The decision was taken at a brief cabinet session following Kostunica’s announcement on Saturday that the government could not continue in office owing to deep disunity over defending Kosovo versus pursuing a place in the European Union.

“The government did not have a united and common policy any more,” a statement said, “and this kept it from performing its basic constitutional function, to define and lead Serbia’s politics.”

The key question is whether Kosovo will usher in a less EU-friendly and more nationalist government.

President Boris Tadic must now disband parliament and set a date for the election, probably on May 11. It will be the most important election since voters ended the era of the late autocrat Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.

The vote will be a close race between the Democrats and the nationalist Radicals, the strongest party.

Kostunica, whose party lies a distant third, quit after tacitly accusing his coalition partners, the Democrats and the G17 Plus party, of giving up on Kosovo, the 90-percent Albanian province which seceded last month with Western backing.

I don’t know enough about Serbian politics to make any predictions, but it strikes me that radicalization remains a strong possibility. One could argue that the benefits of an independent Kosovo outweigh a more nationalist Serbia. After all, the Serbs remain pretty hemmed in and international forces remain in Kosovo. Any thoughts from our better-informed readers?

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NATO Troops Should Redeploy to Protect Kosovar Serbs

Human Security Report Project’s newsfeed reports:

Serbia has promised NATO it would not use force against Kosovo if the breakaway province carried out a vow to declare independence early next year, a senior alliance commander said on Thursday. NATO has patrolled Kosovo since it bombed Serbia for nearly 3 months in 1999 to force the withdrawal of Serb forces accused of atrocities in a war against separatist Albanian guerrillas in the province. “Right now we have enough forces on the ground to protect the people of Kosovo,” said Admiral Mark Fitzgerald, a U.S. Navy officer.

This plus Belgrade’s attempt to seek redress through the ICJ, suggest I was right: NATO’s fears of renewed atrocities against Kosovar Albanians may hve been overblown. But this doesn’t mean there are not important reasons to prioritize the protection of civilians – only that assumptions about who should be protected may need to be reconsidered.

The danger comes not from the certainty that Kosovar Albanians are seceding from Serbia, but from the possibility that Kosovar Serbs will try to secede from a newly independent Kosovo.

Kosovar Serbs are likeliest to attempt secession if they have reason to fear persecution or violence from their newly empowered neighbors.

This has happened before – spates of revenge killings of Serb civilians accompanied the return of refugees from Macedonia in 1999. In such an instance Serbia will be not only inclined but possibly justified in “intervening” on their behalf. This precise dynamic triggered the 1991 war between Serbia and newly independent Croatia, which immediately began “cleansing” the Krajina Serb minority in Croatia.

If NATO wishes to contribute to maintaining stability in the region, the priority should be to provide immediate protection the 100,000 Kosovar Serbs in the northern regions, rather than deploying to protect Albanian civilians farther south from some feared JNA offensive. There would be no more helpful confidence-building measure in the next few months than to send the signal that NATO is biased in favor of stability and civilian protection, rather than in favor of Kosovar Albanians per se.

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