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War Crimes Prosecutor Says It's Worth Risking Lives to Make Arrests

By Malgorzata Alterman

Brussels, July 24 (RFE/RL) -- Judge Richard Goldstone, the chief prosecutor for war crimes in former Yugoslavia, said Saturday it was worth risking the lives of NATO-led peacekeepers to arrest indicted war criminals.

"I cannot even begin to describe the frustration I feel when the international community says it is too dangerous to go and arrest those people," Goldstone said during a conference in Brussels entitled "Justice in Cataclysm: Criminal Tribunals in the Wake of Mass Violence."

"Is it worth the life of one I-FOR soldier to carry out the arrest of indicted war criminals? I have no doubt," he told the conference, which was sponsored by Duke University School of Law and organized in conjunction with the Office of the Prosecutor for the international tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

He criticized politicians for allowing political, financial and bureaucratic obstacles to obscure what should be the international community's main objective: remembering the suffering of the victims and bringing about justice. He said only 7 of the 76 indicted criminals are in custody.

Goldstone described as "very significant" last week's agreement brokered by U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke that caused Karadzic to step down

"It brings the indicted Karadzic and Mladic a step closer to being arrested and brought to the Hague Tribunal. I have no doubt that former political leaders are far more expendable than politicians in office. It may be soon that the Bosnian Serbs themselves, if they want to join the international community, ensure that their former leaders are brought to fair trials," he said.

Interviewed after the conference by RFE/RL, he criticized those who believe that arresting Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and General Radko Mladic would endanger peace in Bosnia, saying there could be no peace without justice.

"You cannot turn a blind eye to justice on the grounds that it may help peace in the short term," he added. "At some point, and the sooner the better, you have to confront the crime."

Accusing the international community of double standards, he pointed out that within any individual country, a rapist accused of violating 20 or 30 women would have been brought to justice by any means.

In former Yugoslavia, thousands of women were raped, tens of thousands of people died, and hundreds of thousands became displaced, Goldstone said.

"In Yugoslavia we are talking about one million victims. How can a decent person say that every step should not be taken, even at risk, to bring them to justice?" he asked. "It would be unacceptable in a national situation and I can only hope that sort of attitude is going to change."

For the same reason, he said, one tribunal should be held for Rwanda and former Yugoslavia so it is clear that the same standards are being applied.

Madeleine Morris, professor of law at Duke University and one of the conference organizers, said it was important that the legal processes involving former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and other conflicts be brought together.

"Insofar as there is international law, there is a real need for that law to be uniform in its development and its application," said Morris, who is also legal consultant to the Rwandan president.

Over the past year, she said, the chances have increased for a permanent international criminal court to be set up, providing continuity and increased deterrence.