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Western Press Review: One War Crimes Minnow Down, Big Fish Still To Go

  • Don Hill

Prague, 8 May 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentators discussing the conviction yesterday at The Hague of Dusan Tadic generally applaud the verdict but then turn to a tougher issue: What about the big offenders?

BOSTON GLOBE: The verdict was the first since Nazi leaders were condemned to death

Writing in an analysis, Elizabeth Neuffer says the trial itself shined a spotlight on another difficult question: If the prosecutors fail to prove Serbia was involved in Bosnian crimes against humanity, can the criminals correctly be convicted of international (emphasize international) war crimes under the Geneva Convention?

Neuffer says: "At a time when future funding for the tribunal is under debate by the United Nations, and most of its indicted criminals remain at large, (yesterday's) judgment was awaited eagerly from Sarajevo to Washington. The verdict, the first in Europe since Nazi leaders were condemned to death, was expected to reveal as much about the tribunal's abilities to administer justice in the Balkans as about Tadic's innocence or guilt."

The Globe's writer says that the verdict wrestled with some key issues. She writes: "Chief among them were whether the Bosnian Serbs had deliberately conducted a campaign of ethnic cleansing aimed at ousting the Bosnian Muslims from their homeland; whether rape was a part of that campaign; and whether neighboring Serbia, dominated by Slobodan Milosevic and his call for a Greater Serbia, played a major role in the Bosnian war."

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: The verdict was a landmark in the history of international law

The paper editorializes today that the verdict advances international law even though it is limited in its impact. But still, the newspaper says, it sends a warning to perpetrators of genocide. The editorial says: "The verdict reached yesterday by the war crime tribunal in The Hague is a landmark in the history of international law." The Daily Telegraph says: "Since it was set up in 1993, the court's achievements have been unimpressive," and adds: "Progress made by the other war crimes tribunal, investigating the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, has been somewhat better."

The newspaper says: "Whatever the difficulties of apprehending suspects and securing convictions, the working of the two courts represents an important extension of the United Nations mandate to maintain peace and security. The tribunals that tried the German and Japanese leaders after the Second World War were set up by the victorious allies. Those in The Hague and Arusha were established by UN Security Council resolutions and thus can be said to embody the will of the international community as a whole.

"Despite obvious weaknesses, their very existence sends a warning to would-be practitioners of genocide and ethnic cleansing that they cannot act with impunity."

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: The brains behind the genocide are still at large

In a news analysis, diplomatic editor Christopher Lockwood, notes statements from the Bosnian Muslim leadership. They say that the verdict supports their claim that the Bosnian Serbs perpetrated planned and organized genocide in Bosnia. He quotes a spokesman as saying, "Tadic was a hand of the genocide. But the brains -- Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic -- are still at large."

Lockwood writes: "His words underline the impotence of the tribunal." The writer says: "Tadic's defense lawyers maintained that he was being made a scapegoat for the tribunal's inability to try the architects of Bosnia's genocide."

WASHINGTON POST: 'Sooner or later, people will get even'

In a news analysis written from Gorazde, in Bosnia, Jonathan C. Randal says that the tribunal's limited impact leaves some Bosnian Muslims thirsting for revenge. He writes: "In this last Muslim enclave left in eastern Bosnia, the verdict in the Dusan Tadic case was discounted even before it was handed down. The negative attitude here toward the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was formed mainly by a boiling sense of resentment against the outside world, which the people of Gorazde believe has shirked its duty to arrest war criminals and bring them to justice.

"And in this Drina River town that Bosnian Serbs besieged for three-and-a-half years, that resentment is spawning schemes of revenge. Gorazde, unfortunately, is not an exception."

Randal says: "Compared to the former Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, and his military commander, Gen. Ratko Mladic, Tadic was dismissed here as a minor character, tried only because he was unlucky enough to have been recognized and arrested in Germany, where he fled to avoid prosecution."

The Post writer quotes an unnamed soldier as noting ominously that the international peacekeepers eventually will leave Bosnia. Randal writes: "Then it would be the time for kad tad. Literally, the Serbo-Croat phrase means 'then and now,' but in fact it signifies, 'Sooner or later, people will get even.' "

NEW YORK TIMES: Bosnian Serbs were agents of the Yugoslav army

In a news analysis today, Marlise Simons writes: "To the dismay of the prosecution, two of the three judges ruled (yesterday) that all the charges involving grave breaches of the fourth Geneva Convention did not apply in the case. Two judges ruled that the fighting in Bosnia after May 1992 has not been proved to be an international conflict, and its victims therefore could not be considered protected persons who were in the hands of a foreign occupier. While the Bosnian Serb troops were dependent on Belgrade's military, and while the two forces coordinated their actions, 'coordination is not the same as command and control,' the two judges ruled."

Simons says that Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, a former U.S. federal judge from Texas, who presided, "in a dissenting opinion, called the Bosnian Serb forces agents of the Yugoslav army." They were, the judge's written dissent said, "an integrated and instrumental part of the Serbian war effort."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The senior commanders are not on trial

And Tracy Wilkinson sums up in an analysis: "The historic verdict was handed down by a three-judge panel after a year-long trial and marked a milestone in the tormented effort to punish those who committed chilling atrocities during three-and-one-half years of war in Bosnia."

Wilkinson writes: "Far more than Tadic's fate was riding on the verdict. The future of the tribunal itself is in question as it struggles to build cases against war crimes suspects who remain at large, flaunting their ability to elude attempts to bring them to justice. 'The record to date is one of considerable inertia by the international community,' (Chief Prosecutor Louise) Arbour conceded. 'I'd like to think today will be a stepping stone to displacing some of that inertia.' " Others were less hopeful that the verdict would add momentum to the process. In contrast to the World War II war-crimes prosecutions in Nuremberg, Germany, and Tokyo, senior commanders are not on trial. Of 74 indicted suspects, only eight are in custody, and Tadic by comparison is small fry."