For those of you too young to remember the Bosnian War, the continued freedom of Mladic – who personally directed the murder of 8,000 Bosnian men and boys in the UN safe area of Srebrenica, the worst civilian massacre in Europe since the Second War – was not only an insult to international law but also a reminder that the troubles in the region might not yet be resolved. As long as elements of the Serbian people continued to protect a mass killer – how could that nation be trusted to have accepted its role in the horrors of the 1990s?
As the British Foreign Secretary William Hague has just said:
The arrest of Ratko Mladic is a historic moment for a region that was torn apart by the appalling wars of the 1990s. Ratko Mladic stands accused of terrible crimes committed in Bosnia-Herzegovina and it is right that he will now be brought to face international justice. Today our thoughts are with the relatives of those killed during the siege of Sarajevo and genocide in Srebrenica.
Among some of my peers and friends, including Samantha Power who’s Pullitzer Prize winning book A Problem from from Hell came out of her experiences during the war, we felt ourselves part of the ‘Bosnian Generation’. This was strikingly different from the Vietnam generation that preceded us. They felt the consequences and catastrophes of wrong headed intervention. We felt the consequences and catastrophes of wrong headed non-intervention.
The failures of Bosnia led to the more muscular policy in Kosovo. Of course these same principles of liberal interventionism (something I don’t actually believe in) were conscripted and used by the Neocons during the Iraq invasion. But the principles were not entirely lost. They survive in the ‘responsibility to protect’ doctrine adopted by the UN in 2005. Under that, national governments no longer have immunity from war crimes conducted against their own civilians, even if they are within their national borders, or part of civil war or strife. It was this R2P doctrine which was activated in the UNSCR 1973 resolution against Gaddafy when he threatened to massacre the citizens of Benghazi.
Personally, the day when Srebrenica fell to Mladic’s troops in July 1995, was one of the darkest in my life. The horrors of ethnic and racial war in Europe, so well known to my parents generation, seem to have erupted out of nowhere. Europe, much more than any other continent, was the heart of darkness in terms of genocide and racial war in the 20th century. To see that return, after so many millions dead, was like the terrible shocking twist in a horror story.
So I celebrate Mladic’s capture, just as I celebrate the attempted capture of Bin Laden. This is another mark of the increasing role of international law – a standard that seem to be almost swamped by the War on Terror and unlilateral pre-emptive war as outlined by Bush, Cheney and the Neocons.
I wish Bin Laden had been captured alive, but I’m glad he is finished. I look forward to Mladic having to answer his charges in the glare of publicity and face his guilt before the whole world.
May the many dead rest in peace. May the ones they left behind find some peace and healing in this moment of justice.