The Evil That Men Do

April 09, 1994|By DANIEL BERGER

The tolerated destruction of the Muslim people of Bosnia will haunt the West.

It is awkward to say that Algerian extremists should not murder Europeans, while Bosnian Serb militia may murder Muslim Serbs (that's what they are) at will, starve, torture, rape and expel them.

It is difficult to insist that the Maronite Christian tradition remain forever in Lebanon, while accepting that 200 mosques in the Banja Luka region be razed.

It is taxing to maintain that Orthodox and Catholic Christians, Jews and Muslims should live side-by-side in Egypt and Syria and Iran and Israel, but not in any part of the former Yugoslavia.

It is daunting to brand self-segregation wrong in American cities and campuses, but mandatory for Sarajevo and Gorazde and Banja Luka and Prijedor.

It is discomforting to demand that Muslim Arab regimes welcome a Jewish state in their midst while agreeing that Christian European regimes shun a Muslim-led pluralistic one near them.

We cannot pretend the Muslim world doesn't notice. Isolationism won't work in an age of deep-dish news, fax, modem and Internet.

The embarrassment for Germany, France, Britain and the U.S. is equal for Russia. To insist on Russian rights in Uzbekistan while countenancing ethnic cleansing of Bosnia is, at best, unpersuasive.

The Bosnian Serb offensive in the Banja Luka and Prijedor regions of northern Bosnia -- as described by U.N. officials, aid workers, diplomats and reporters interviewing refugees -- beyond any question violates the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This convention was unanimously adopted by the U. N. General Assembly in 1948 and came into force as international law in 1951. It defines genocide as commitment of acts with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such.

Proscribed acts include killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm, deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent birth, and the forcible transfer of children.

Conspiracy, incitement, attempts and complicity in these acts are also punishable crimes under the convention, whether committed by constitutionally responsible rulers, public officers or private individuals.

That is admittedly inconvenient, but it has been international law for 43 years. The Bosnian Serb attack on Gorazde -- before Ukrainian peace-keeping troops could arrive -- is a different matter.

The Bosnian Serb militia, controlled from Belgrade, is calling the bluff of the U.N. Security Council, which last May proclaimed six ''safe areas,'' including Gorazde, and then authorized ''all necessary measures'' to protect them.

Despite the U.S. role in establishing ''safe areas,'' Secretary of Defense William Perry said Sunday that the U.S. would not take military action to save Gorazde.

Such categorical renunciation --the sort of statement that is almost never made -- was an extraordinary green light to Serb commanders to take the town, though apparently unintended. U.S. spokesmen from President Clinton on down tried afterward to muddy the waters with traditional ambiguity.

The Clinton administration, on March 31, blocked the Security Council from sending 10,000 peace-keepers to Bosnia as promised, reducing the number to 3,500. These would not have been Americans, but the U.S. would have paid about one-third of the cost, more than $100 million, for six months. The reason the administration gave for its reversal was that Congress in February refused to pass a $670 million supplementary appropriation for outstanding peace-keeping bills.

In welshing on its word internationally, the administration was keeping the faith domestically on deficit reduction. Let us hope that no member of Congress excoriates it for failing to support peace-keeping.

Civilians are not accidental victims of the Serb shelling of Gorazde and mass murders in Prijedor, but the target. These atrocities are not isolated acts of passion, but the plan. The purpose is to kill many Muslims and drive away the rest through terror, then destroy any trace of their having been there.

You have to say one thing for Serbian ruler Slobodan Milosevic's strategy. Terror works. And everyone can see that it does. What a role model.

Daniel Berger writes editorials for The Baltimore Sun.

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