Hiding in plain sight
by Carla del Ponte, The Hague
I know, roughly, where the most wanted fugitives from the war in Bosnia are hiding. It is clear that NATO and the authorities in Serbia and Montenegro know even more about their whereabouts. Yet these fugitives, Radovan Karadžić and Gen. Ratko Mladić, are still at large.
Almost eight years ago, the world's war-crimes tribunal for Yugoslavia indicted Dr. Karadžić, the wartime Bosnian Serb leader, and his military chief, General Mladić, for leading the violent, nationalist-Serb siege of Sarajevo as a part of a campaign to partition Bosnia-Herzegovina and expel millions of Muslims. A few months later, this tribunal added charges against Dr. Karadžić and General Mladić stemming from the killings, in 1995, of more than 7,000 Muslims from Srebrenica, a town that was supposed to be under United Nations protection.
Today, General Mladić is lurking in Serbia, right under the noses of the Belgrade authorities. Dr. Karadžić is shuffling about within a corridor of rugged terrain in eastern Bosnia, sometimes in disguise, always poised to dash across the border into Serbia and Montenegro, always protected by men who are themselves implicated in the Srebrenica massacre.
NATO and the Serbian and Montenegrin authorities are duty bound to arrest and extradite these men, as well as 16 other, less notorious, indicted fugitives. Unfortunately, by announcing last week that Serbia and Montenegro have shown sufficient cooperation with this tribunal to warrant sending $50 million in American aid, the United States may well have dampened the
chances that Dr. Karadžić and General Mladić will find themselves in custody any time soon.
Nonetheless, the Serbs have moved on from the days when Dr. Karadžić and General Mladić held them spellbound. Surveys from Serbia and Montenegro show that most people there support cooperation with the war-crimes tribunal, especially when their economic well-being depends upon it. Recent extraditions of several other fugitives from Serbia, including a former Yugoslav army general and secret-police chief, have met with no serious resistance.
Time has passed and the interest of the world's news media has moved elsewhere, but the arrests of Dr. Karadžić and General Mladic remain crucial for a number of reasons.
First, silence and a failure to take action will send a signal to other, similar nationalist leaders, perhaps in the Balkans, perhaps further afield, that the world does not mean what it says when it comes to international justice.
Second, for months governments on both sides of the Atlantic have pressed the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to wrap up its investigations, complete its trials and close its doors. But that wouldn't be right if men accused of giving the orders for such heinous crimes escape. The successful completion of the tribunal's mission depends to a great
extent upon the will of the Western powers, specifically NATO, and the authorities in Serbia and Montenegro and the other successor states of the former Yugoslavia to hand over the fugitives.
The tribunal's prosecutors, investigators and other staff members would like nothing more than to complete their mission. They understand that the tribunal was never meant to be a permanent body. They understand that their job is to prosecute the persons responsible for war crimes, especially order-givers like Dr. Karadžić and General Mladić, to further the process of peace and reconciliation in the Balkans. In the decade since the tribunal opened, it has indicted 134 people. About 30 more, including several ranking leaders, are likely to be indicted by 2004, when the prosecution finishes its investigations.
Third, only when fugitives like Dr. Karadžić and General Mladić are transformed from symbols of a lack of backbone into symbols of the international community's resolve will Bosnia-Herzegovina and the other traumatized states of the region stand a chance of establishing rule of law. And only when the peoples of these states enjoy the rule of law will they be able to partake fully in the process of European unification.
The time has come to summon the will and bring Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić to justice. It's what their victims, and the rest of the world, deserve.
Carla del Ponte is chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. This article appeared in The New York Times, 27 June 2003