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Western Press Review: Milosevic Extradition, International Justice, Yugoslavia

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 2 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press today and over the weekend continues to focus on the extradition of former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic. Some commentators hail the move as a victory for international justice, while others question whether the extradition was tainted by political or other motives. Others look at its effects on the internal political situation in Yugoslavia, in the wake of Yugoslav Prime Minister Zoran Zizic's resignation following Milosevic's transfer to The Hague. The extradition has also renewed debate on the viability -- and desirability -- of the international justice system.


An editorial in the "Financial Times" writes that Slobodan Milosevic is "where he belongs: awaiting trial for war crimes before the international tribunal in The Hague." The paper continues: "As the first former head of state to be arraigned before such a court, his trial will be a vital test of the capacity of the international legal system to enforce its jurisdiction across borders. [The] very fact that he has been brought to justice should help to discourage dictators the world over from feeling they can rule with impunity and fear no consequences."

But, it adds, "[The] manner of Mr. Milosevic's delivery to The Hague [left] something to be desired. It appeared over-hasty and failed to strictly observe normal legal practices in Yugoslavia. It has caused renewed political instability in Belgrade [and it] suggests that [Serbian Prime Minister Zoran] Djindjic and the reformers in government are themselves prepared to bend the rules, under pressure from the international community."


In Britain's "The Times," commentator Mick Hume writes that "Slobodan Milosevic surely had a point when he described his forthcoming trial at the international war crimes tribunal as a 'political circus.' The debate over war crimes often reveals motives that have rather more to do with politics than with justice."

Hume adds that the issue of war crimes raises many questions for the international community to consider. He writes: "In the half-century after the trials of leading Nazis at Nuremberg, many atrocities were committed around the world, a good many of them by governments allied to the West in the Cold War. Yet there was never any serious consideration given to setting up an international tribunal. [Proposals] that Britons and Americans should be tried over acts of war in the Falklands, the Gulf, or Serbia have been quickly dismissed."

He adds: "It is arguable that the existence of this tribunal is an infringement of international law, [that it is] in contravention of the UN's own principle of non-intervention in the affairs of member states." All in all, Hume concludes, "the tribunal looks less like a neutral court of international law than a creature of global power politics."


A contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe" by former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke says that Milosevic's transfer to The Hague "ends one era in the Balkans and begins another." Holbrooke continues: "[This] trial will raise enough issues of jurisdiction and procedure to transfix legal junkies for years to come. But before the congratulations in the West get out of hand, there are several important pieces of unfinished business."

The most urgent of them, Holbrooke says, are the indicted Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, both still at large. Holbrooke writes that "NATO's lack of success in capturing [Karadzic] was our greatest failure in the years since the Dayton Agreement was signed in November 1995."

He adds that another important aspect of Milosevic's transfer is that it highlighted what he calls "the absurdity of the current Yugoslav political structure: a national government with very little authority over the two republics that stayed inside Yugoslavia, Serbia [and] Montenegro." Holbrooke notes that the reform of this system is a matter for the people of Yugoslavia to decide, but remarks: "If Montenegro and Serbia divorce peacefully, [it] will be better than a continuation of the present system."

Holbrooke also considers what he calls "the continuing debate in the U.S. over whether legislated pressure on foreign governments is productive," and says that in this case, at least, such pressure did manage to produce "a remarkable outcome" in the form of the Milosevic extradition.


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Thomas Schmid says that the extradition of Milosevic was "not noble, but it was good." He writes: "Ironically, international criminal law has taken a giant leap forward in Belgrade. However, it was neither noble nor moving. For it was not the moral compass that showed the way, but political and -- perhaps even more so -- material interests."

Schmid continues: "It was the threat issued by the U.S. secretary of state, Colin Powell, that the United States might boycott the donors conference unless Mr. Milosevic were extradited [that] made the Serb government act. It was not insight, but pressure that brought Mr. Milosevic to The Hague." However, Schmid says, "[it would be] naive to rely solely on moral capacity. That is not enough. So it is not reprehensible but good when self-interest helps insight to its feet," he says.


An editorial in the French daily "Le Monde" writes, "Whereas Western leaders congratulated themselves on the transfer of Milosevic, numerous voices rose in Moscow to condemn it." The daily quotes Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov as saying, "the transfer of Milosevic does not strengthen the stability of Yugoslavia," and adding that this decision "reinforces the separatists in Kosovo and Montenegro who are in favor of withdrawing from the Yugoslav federation."

"Le Monde" goes on to consider the resignation of Yugoslav Prime Minister Zoran Zizic, and says that he "emphasized that his resignation was motivated by the way in which the former president had been delivered to the court on Thursday." It quotes him as saying, "As prime minister and a lawyer, I cannot be associated with an open violation of the elementary rights guaranteed by the constitution."


An article by Matthew Kaminski in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" considers the aftermath of the Milosevic extradition in Yugoslavian politics. Kaminski writes that although the extradition took place in defiance of a federal court order, straining relations among political leaders, "over the weekend, [politicians] seemed to back away from threats to force new elections or break up the unwieldy 18-party coalition, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, [or DOS]." Kaminski writes that "the threat of any long-term disruption in Yugoslav political life was never that great, in part because most powers rest with the two republics [of Serbia and Montenegro]."

He notes that "[Serbian Prime Minister Zoran] Djindjic, who pushed through the extradition, comes out of the episode looking stronger. The international community rewarded the extradition Friday (29 June) by pledging $1.28 billion in aid, slightly more that Yugoslavia asked for."

Despite protests from Yugoslav President Kostunica, who called the extradition "illegal and unconstitutional," his party says they "were not thinking of leaving the DOS," Kaminski writes. Yugoslav Prime Minister Zoran Zizic, who resigned on Friday in protest of the extradition, similarly gave his assurances, Kaminski notes, adding: "Mr. Zizic indicated Saturday that his party would back the creation of a new cabinet -- instead of pushing for new elections -- in talks due to start Monday."


Fred Hiatt writes in "The Washington Post" that the call to investigate Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes serves "as a reminder of the other side of would-be international justice -- of the dangers that may arise from a permanent international criminal court." Hiatt considers recent allegations that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon should -- or could -- be charged with war crimes for his role in the massacres of Palestinians in Lebanon. The massacres in question, Hiatt notes, happened 19 years ago.

He writes: "The question is: Why now? Because lots of Europeans don't like Sharon's policies as prime minister. This is war crimes charge as political weapon." Holding war criminals accountable is good, Hiatt writes, but "there is something fundamentally anti-democratic about a permanent court that can initiate investigations, name suspects and arrest people outside their own countries with almost no oversight. [Once] in existence, [the international criminal court] will claim jurisdiction over nationals even of countries that don't ratify [the Rome Treaty, which created it]; choosing to stay out, in other words, will offer no protection [overseas]."

The best safeguard against these potential dangers, Hiatt says, "would be to require UN Security Council authorization," in order to launch inquiries. Barring this option, he says, we are left with "the imperfect option of diplomacy: of working with other countries in hopes of [strengthening] the principle that no judge or prosecutor should operate beyond political control."