Since the precedent set by the Nuremberg trials to persecute criminals on an international scale when crimes against humanity have been performed, international law has developed and evolved at a gradual but definitive rate. From various special courts and tribunals being created to the establishment of a permanent International Criminal Court (ICC) to deal with inhumane acts, human rights are truly moving in a positive direction. Nevertheless, the most prominent case in international law today, the prosecution of former general Ratko Mladic, illustrates just how far international criminal law is from perfection.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (also known as the ICTY) has made quite a bit of progress, persecuting individuals such as Vujadin Popovic and Ljubisa Beara to life in prison. Nevertheless, it has failed to persecute a key instigator of the Balkan wars, the former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, given that he passed away in detention before a verdict could be reached. The premature death of Milosevic brings up an important problem in the ICTY and other international legal cases. Namely, they are uniquely lengthy when compared to other legal cases. Of course, the international legal system is still a nascent one, and as such the rules and regulations must be constructed and tested before they can have pragmatic application. Until that is done however, the international community of justice seekers must live in a constant state of bittersweet emotions: on the one hand there are many trailblazing efforts made in the moral and ethical realm but on the other the process of bringing inhumane individuals to accountability for their actions is bogged down by bureaucracy and careful treading.
The trial of Ratko Mladic was to be particularly monumental because it was the last of the series of trials against the individuals who orchestrated the Bosnian Crisis of 1992- 1995. It was meant to put an end to the twenty year period of emotional turmoil for the survivors and relatives of this turbulent period in history. The ICTY had indicted Ratko Mladic with eleven counts, although this was not their ideal figure. In reality Mladic was responsible for far more than he is being prosecuted for, but in the interest of reaching verdict in a reasonable amount of time, and given Mladic’s advanced age of 70 years, the charges were reduced in order to avoid a similar scenario to the case of Slobodan Milosevic.
The eleven counts presented against Mladic are as follows:
1) Genocide: Planned, ordered, and aided with genocide against Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats. Hence there was an element of both ethnic and religious cleansing. Killed thousands of individuals and placed thousands more under detention with the intention of bringing about their deaths.
2) Genocide: Was a part of the massacre at Srebrenica where men and boys were murdered and women, elderly, and children were forcibly removed.
3) Persecution: Committed persecutions based on political and religious motivation, including killing, torture, and rape.
4, 5, 6) Murder and extermination: Both of these acts were committed in Srebrenica as aforementioned as well as in Sarajevo. Mladic had the objective of permanently removing Bosnian Muslims and Croats.
7, 8) Deportation and inhumane acts: Planned, instigated, and aided with the forced transfer of Bosnian Muslims and Croats from Srebrenica and other towns.
9, 10) Terror and unlawful acts: Instigated crimes of terror against civilian populations and participated in a campaign of sniping and shelling the citizens of Sarajevo.
11) Taking of UN hostages: To prevent United Nations airstrikes against his forces, Mladic kidnapped over 200 UN peacekeepers and observers, using them to deter international military intervention.
It is evident from these charges that Ratko Mladic’s case is one which is very serious to consider and requires a talented prosecution. On May 16th, this seemed to be the scenario at the international tribunal. Granted, only introductions were presented against Mladic, but the research done was thorough and presented in an organized manner. Prosecution counsel Dermot Groome seemed to provide an adequate number of diagrams, video evidence, and even passages from Mladic’s own diary, found in his family farmhouse a few years prior.
Despite the promising proceedings however, Mr. Mladic seemed to be unphased by the events. He was cold and emotionless throughout. The most chilling part of the proceedings was when he turned to the witness box, filled with his past victims and their families, and made a slicing gesture across his neck looking at a Bosnian mother. The callous nature of this man was evident to all, and the head judge had to call a brief recess in order to go over court conduct with Ratko Mladic.
These developments were undoubtedly promising to all individuals witnessing the trial, but unfortunately on May 17th an unexpected obstacle appeared. Specifically, the presiding judge, Alphons Orie, said that the tribunal was to be postponed for an indefinite period because of ‘significant disclosure errors’ by prosecutors. The prosecution was meant to share all of their information and evidence with the opposition. Earlier in the trial, the first witness was set to testify on the 29th of July. After this incident however, there must be an inquiry by the judges as to the scope and impact of the error on the part of the prosecution. The defense has asked for a six month delay, and there is no word as of yet if that request is going to be validated.
It is evident from the pace of Mladic’s trial that the international judiciary system is anything but flawless. Nevertheless, the international community acknowledges that there is a need for a supra-national order. Of course, there is still the debate of international jurisdiction versus national sovereignty, but to a large extent the global community realizes that certain actions do not simply affect one state versus another, but influence the human race as a whole. What will happen with the Mladic trial and how long will it be before the legal professionals reconvene? Only time will tell. However, what is sure is that acknowledging and dealing with an international crisis is a step in the right direction. A step that lets the international community know that their actions are being monitored.
More information about Ratko Mladic can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ratko_Mladi%C4%87. The site for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia is located at http://www.icty.org/ and the site for the International Criminal Court is http://www.icc-cpi.int/Menus/ICC.