That the former Serb General Ratko Mladic was able to escape detection for sixteen years, beggars belief. The relative’s house he used as a ‘safe house’ was reportedly searched some four times – presumably with Mladic being told to take a stroll while they took place. That the butcher of Srebrenica was finally arrested this week is largely down to the fact that Serbia’s accession to the European Union hung on him being apprehended and that the government in Belgrade now leans more towards pragmatic engagement than the nihilist nationalism that once had the Balkans in flames.
Clearly alleged war criminals can run and may be allowed to hide, until they run out of friends or are no longer worthy bargaining chips. But the question has once again been raised; when is the comparatively new and increasingly more effective hand of international justice going to be strengthened? Or to put it more directly, when will it’s supporters be able to say to their critics that international justice is not ‘victor’s justice’?
Alleged war criminals from the losing side, whether it be Nazi Germany, Serbia or the progenitors of the Rwandan genocide have faced international tribunals and today’s International Criminal Court in The Hague. Hopefully others such as Gadafi of Libya and Assad of Syria will one day join them. But what of those accused of war crimes or of complicity in helping to make them happen from ‘victor’ nations? To be more specific, when will Henry Kissinger face trial and when will George Bush or Tony Blair face trial?
This is far from being an unreasonable question. For the International Court of Criminal Justice in The Hague to be utterly without reproach and more to the point be able to face down the claims that it acts on behalf of the West, it has to be able to try those such as Kissinger, Bush and Blair who many believe do have a case to answer. The claims against Kissinger are rooted in his alleged involvement in the Indonesian operations in East Timor following the Portuguese withdrawl in 1975, and of course the carpet bombing of a neutral country, Cambodia in that same decade.
Tony Blair it is alleged acted on dubious information sources that had been ‘sexed up’ so as to exaggerate, and as it proved, falsify claims against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. The former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Anan, said that the war in Iraq was “illegal”. The long awaited Chilcott Report into the Iraq War seems likely to provide further evidence that Tony Blair may have knowingly taken Britain into an illegal war.
If these are crimes, they clearly differ from the more direct ritual abuse and murder of civilians carried out by the likes of Mladic and Gadaffi. But it is up to the International Court to let us know if there is a case to be made.
For international law to work, for illegal wars and conflicts to be stopped, for the prevention of atrocities on civilians to be prevented, the court has to be utterly even handed.
So for those who say that Kissinger, Bush and Blair should be forced to stand trial, it is up to them to start building the case and collecting the evidence.