Saturday, June 30, 2007

Delayed action

Delayed action

Anna Di Lellio

June 26, 2007 8:00 PM

Carla del Ponte's engagement with politics is not new or surprising. It is born out of necessity. When the chief prosecutor at The Hague recently asked the UN security council to postpone the decision on Kosovo's status, she probably calculated that assuaging a recalcitrant Serb government on the issue of Kosovo would help her bring to justice General Ratko Mladic with Radovan Karadzic, one of the two war criminals still at large in Serbia. Maybe Del Ponte will succeed in arraigning her most prized defendant before her term expires in mid-September. The question however remains: will justice have been served?

The UK and France responded to Del Ponte's plea for a delay with a new draft resolution on Kosovo calling for a "cooling off" period of 120 days. That's not enough of a concession, according to Serbia and Russia, who are now in the position to raise their price. There is time, before September, to structure a better deal for Serbia: Mladic in exchange for an indefinite postponement of Kosovo's decision. Belgrade is incapable of regaining sovereign authority over the overwhelming majority of Albanians that it tried to obliterate with mass killing, rapes, and expulsions less than 10 years ago, but will be content with keeping a choke-hold on Kosovo.

Would there also be the political will to back such deal? One should hope not. Making extra efforts to arrest the general who ordered thousands of Muslim men to be massacred in Srebrenica is laudable. By trading Kosovo for him, however, the international tribunal is betraying its mission.

The Hague is a court like no other. It pursues individuals, not nations or states, but the heinous crimes these criminals have committed towards targeted collectivities - whether nations, religious or ethnic groups. Indictments and convictions have an exemplary quality. They provide justice on a grand scale. In order to bring justice to the victims, both perpetrators and their plans for oppression and killing must be locked up.

Unfortunately, denying Kosovo the independence that the former province of Yugoslavia demands goes against this very principle. Mladic may end up in jail, but his dream of a territorially expanded Serbia will stay alive. A victory on Kosovo will in fact strengthen the same coalition that used him as a soldier in Bosnia: the elite intellectuals, Orthodox clergy, nationalist politicians and state security apparatus. This coalition is currently in power in Belgrade and enjoys broad popular support. It deserves international condemnation, not new props.

The Hague cannot count on an independent law enforcement agency to carry out its writ, least of all the Nato-led peacekeepers and European police deployed in the region by the thousands, but incapable of enforcing the law. It must use politics and it did, when it offered the incentive of EU integration in order to obtain Belgrade's cooperation. This tactic, which worked so well in Croatia in the Gotovina case, failed totally in Serbia. There is a reason for that. The Croatian government has broken with the legacy of the war. The Serb government has not. Appeasing Belgrade is therefore both wrong and dangerous.

Carla del Ponte has put the victims at the centre of her concerns as a prosecutor, but it is difficult to see what kind of justice they would receive, if Kosovo's independence is conceded to Serbia. It would certainly be a tremendous blow to the Kosovo victims, who were targeted both because they were Albanians and because they demanded their right of self-determination. Thousands of dead will be denied dignity. Two million survivors will be denied political freedom.

It is doubtful that this would please the victims of Srebrenica either, who will not appreciate the support given to the same Serb governing forces that destroyed their lives. In Carla's List, a documentary on Carla del Ponte recently released in New York at the Human Rights Watch film festival, the women of Srebrenica show a perfect understanding of the political situation. They know that Mladic will be arrested only when it is politically expedient to the current Serb leaders, who are not to be trusted. "How can she [Del Ponte] trust Kostunica?" asks Munira Subasi, president of the association Mothers of Srebrenica, "he lied one, two, three times ... " Subasi, who has lost her husband together with 22 members of her family, is still looking for her missing son. She wants both justice and truth.

The truth, according to the film, is that for the past 12 years the police, the army and the secret services - the whole Serb state security apparatus in fact - have protected Mladic and Karadzic. This is revealed in Carla's List by Jean-Daniel Ruch, Del Ponte's political adviser. Mladic and Karadzic might never be delivered to The Hague, he says. Karadzic in particular is "one of them", he "belongs to the same brotherhood" as Prime Minister Kostunica.

It might be that Mladic, the loyal soldier, will now be sacrificed to block Kosovo's independence. In a recent interview with Charlie Rose on the American Public Service Television, Del Ponte denied having engaged in politics, but could not conceal her glee: "I will be a happy prosecutor going home," she said. Does she know more than she can say? In this case, her prosecutorial success will not be the same as the triumph of international justice. It will certainly bring no justice to the victims.

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