Lagging justice for Bosnia crimes

August 18, 1996|By BENJAMIN L. CARDIN

SINCE THE BOSNIAN civil war started in 1991, the scope and magnitude of the war crimes committed in Bosnia-Herzegovina have been staggering. The body of evidence clearly indicates that the vast majority of these crimes have been committed by Bosnian Serbs against Bosnian Muslims.

Rape, mass murders and torture have been commonplace. In 1995, testimony before the U.S. Helsinki Commission revealed a litany of horror: 200,000 people have been killed, most of them civilians; more than 500,000 people have been held in 800 prisons or detention centers; 151 mass grave sites have been identified; and more than 1,600 cases of rape and forced impregnation of girls and women have been documented.

Some of the worst offenses of the war have occurred since that testimony was delivered. On July 11, the U.N. haven of Srebrenica fell under the bloodiest attack of the war - an estimated 6,000 Muslims were executed.

In response to these stories of horror, the United Nations established the War Crimes Tribunal in 1993 to prosecute those who have committed these crimes. The evidence gathered by the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague has been overwhelming and has led to the indictment, to date, of 75 people, including five indictments for genocide and eight for gang rape and enslavement of Muslim women.

Yet, many of those accused of heinous crimes still are free and living in defiance in the former Yugoslavia.

It is a travesty of justice that numerous obstacles have impeded these trials. Some are bureaucratic in nature. The delay in establishing the War Crimes Tribunal made the gathering of evidence more difficult, and Zagreb and Belgrade have been slow to open liaison offices with the tribunal.

Many member states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have yet to enact legislation needed to allow them to cooperate with the tribunal.

But other obstacles have been much more serious.

Most of those indicted on war crime charges remain at large. The worst example of this is Radovan Karadzic, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs who has been indicted. Gen. Ratko Mladic, former commander of Bosnian Serb troops, also faces war crimes charges.

Their freedom is a violation of the Dayton peace accords, which demand that all sides cooperate with the tribunal, including handing over indicted war criminals.

There also is the problem concerning IFOR (Implementation Force), the U.N./U.S.-led peace force now stationed in Bosnia. Unfortunately, IFOR has chosen to interpret its mandate so narrowly that it has done virtually nothing to capture war criminals and/or to assist the work of the tribunal.

Despite the problems, the work of the War Crimes Tribunal has begun. Recently, Drazan Erdemovic, the first person to confess to participating in wartime atrocities, presented extraordinary testimony against Karadzic and Mladic.

But it has not been enough. The international community must do more. The United States should set an example and demonstrate stronger support for the tribunal.

In Congress, I am working with other members to build such support.

We are urging passage of legislation that calls for economic sanctions against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Serb-held Bosnia until the Bosnian Serbs fully comply with the Dayton accords. In addition, it is time to review IFOR's mission and expand it to include assisting local authorities in capturing war criminals and turning them over to the tribunal.

A key element of the Dayton accords is a nationwide election in Bosnia, which is scheduled Sept. 14.

The international community should work together to guarantee that those indicted on war crime charges, such as Karadzic and Mladic, are in custody before the election. Their presence in Bosnia during the election calls into question the fairness and accuracy of such an election.

As Edmund Burke, a member of the British House of Commons in the 18th century, famously observed, "the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

We must not let that happen.

The international community must not stand by and let murder, rape and torture go unanswered. The victims of the Bosnian atrocities call out for justice.

Benjamin L. Cardin represents Maryland's 3rd Congressional District and is a member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Pub Date: 8/18/96

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