The arrest of former Serbian military chief, Ratko Mladic finally begins to draw a line underneath the unspeakable savagery that characterised the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. Mladic was the remaining ‘big fish’ still unaccounted for, and his capture poses almost as many embarrassing questions for the Serb authorities as for the Pakistani authorities with the discovery that Osma bin Landen was living next door to one of the most significant military bases in the country.
Mladic had apparently been living under the pseudonym of ‘Milirad Komadic’ and it has been alleged would occasionally be seen dining at luxurious restaurants and turning up to football matches.
I remember the arrest of the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, since I was working as a television correspondent at the time, and had been diverted from Dublin to The Hague to await the arrival of the latest alleged Serb war criminal. There he was due to stand trial for war crimes at the International Tribunal. Karadzic had of course turned disguise into a fine art form, and looked more like Father Christmas than the posturing politician of old.
Mladic, like Karadzic and ex President Milosevic will face the UN Prosecutor for War Crimes, Serge Brammertz. We shall see how the man who is accused of commanding the siege of Sarajevo for 44 months, which left 10,000 dead faces up to his inquisitors and witnesses. We shall also see what he has to say about the 8,000 Muslim men and boys who were massacred in Srebrenica as he commanded Serb irregulars.
But the message from the UN War Crimes Prosecutor as well as the International Court to all of those who are accused of crimes against humanity, is that you may run, and you may hide for a time, but in the end ‘we shall find you’.
The long and relatively new arm of international justice has finally caught up with Mladic. One day it may do the same with Colonel Gadafi and President Assad of Syria.
And for those who have only negatives for the role of the United Nations, and the Secretary General Ban ki moon in further supporting the work of the International Court and refining ‘Responsibility to Protect’ into a practical doctrine with cause and effect, the message surely has to be; at least military and political leaders can no longer act with impunity.