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New Series no.11/12 August - November 1999
The Milosevic indictment is welcome, but what about Tudjman?
by Peter Maass

As we go to press, it is unclear whether Tudjman's latest illness will render this article redundant in practical terms. But even if that does turn out to be the case, its central point remains valid and indeed of crucial importance for the future of B-H and its neighbours: ultimate responsibility for the bulk of the crimes committed during the Bosnian war lies with the political authorities in Belgrade and Zagreb, and not simply with their Bosnian proxies.

If the war crimes tribunal in the Hague hopes to be seen as an impartial arbiter of justice, it should match its indictment of Slobodan Milosevic with a move against President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia. The Clinton administration, which belatedly offered the tribunal crucial intelligence about Mr. Milosevic, should let the tribunal know what it knows about Mr. Tudjman's links to Croatian forces that committed atrocities in Bosnia. It is unclear whether the administration can summon the moral strength to help the tribunal pursue a useful ally. Croatia's port and airports are staging grounds for the NATO-led peacekeeping operation in Bosnia.

Mr. Milosevic is far more responsible than Mr. Tudjman for the bloodshed in the Balkans, and Mr. Tudjman is not involved in the cleansing of Kosovo. But ground zero for Balkan war crimes remains in Bosnia. The tragedy in Kosovo is horrendous, but the known death toll there does not approach the several hundred thousand deaths in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995. Serbian forces are responsible for the bulk of those killings, as well as untold rapes and cleansing. But Croatian forces linked to Mr. Tudjman used similar tactics. The ethnic Croatian militia in Bosnia, the HVO, which received crucial support from Croatia, conducted vicious cleansing operations in central Bosnia, among other areas. If justice is blind, why should Mr. Milosevic be indicted and not Mr. Tudjman?

Mr. Milosevic, along with four associates, has not been indicted for crimes in Bosnia. But had there been no war in Bosnia, it is unlikely that Mr. Milosevic would have been indicted last week. For the most part, he is being made to pay for crimes committed by his forces in Sarajevo, Srebrenica, Zvornik, Foca and many other Bosnian towns. Mr. Tudjman should face the same music. The Croatian leader has cancer and may not have long to live. But if someone is suspected of war crimes, should he be granted more mercies than the innocent men, women and children who have perished?

Mr. Milosevic and Mr. Tudjman kept their distance from the scenes of war crimes and refrained from public orders for the cleansing of Bosnia. The best evidence against them is believed to be in electronic intercepts gathered by U.S. and other Western spy agencies – telephone or radio conversations and telexes or cables that link both men to campaigns in Bosnia. Until recently, virtually none of that evidence was shared with the tribunal. Its hardworking investigators have laboured under a number of other handicaps as they have pursued indictments. The local authorities have been reluctant to cooperate, often refusing outright. At the outset, the tribunal received thin financial support from Western nations that did not want their diplomatic apple cart upset by a powerful prosecutor. NATO forces in Bosnia have so far arrested only a handful of indicted war criminals. These handicaps have made it difficult for the tribunal to accumulate concrete evidence linking Mr. Milosevic and Mr. Tudjman to the military forces in Bosnia that they controlled from behind the scenes.

Kosovo changed the equation for Mr. Milosevic because it is part of Yugoslavia, and the forces at work there are under his direct control. What also changed was the Clinton administration's willingness to provide incriminating intelligence. Once the White House went to war against Mr. Milosevic, it began releasing satellite imagery of mass graves and providing classified intercepts to the tribunal. Louise Arbour, the chief prosecutor, has not hesitated to issue indictments once she has accumulated enough evidence. This sort of cooperation was long overdue, but raises the spectre of retribution rather than justice. By turning on and off the flow of intelligence to the tribunal, the administration can influence indictments. If this means that Mr. Tudjman escapes judgment for lack of evidence, even if the evidence exists in the vaults of the CIA or the National Security Agency, the Serbs will have reason to accuse the tribunal of bias. In the realm of war crimes, there is a name for regrettable outcomes of this sort – victor's justice.

The writer, author of Love Thy Neighbour: a story of war which chronicled the conflict in Bosnia, contributed this comment to the New York Times. It was reprinted in The International Herald Tribune on 2 June 1999.

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