Good law, poor tactic

Milosevic indicted: Genocide in Kosovo calls for punishment, as did war crimes in Bosnia.

May 30, 1999

THE OVERDUE indictment of Slobodan Milosevic by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia is based on facts and law. It also disturbs the peace process that must come in Kosovo.

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide became world law in 1951. It outlaws acts with intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.

This is not a meaningless gesture. A war crimes court sitting in Tanzania last September sentenced a former Rwandan prime minister to life in prison. He pleaded guilty to six counts of genocide in the slaughter of 500,000 Rwandans in 1994.

In 1993, the United Nations Security Council established the tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to prosecute crimes against humanity. It has indicted 84 suspects, convicted seven, acquitted one. Ten trials are in progress, and 27 indicted suspects are in custody.

Since last year, U.N. and human rights investigators have been compiling evidence of crimes in Kosovo. Mass murders, massive expulsions, methodical rape and robbery are well-documented. The challenge will be to connect them to the Yugoslav federal president and his henchmen.

The chief prosecutor, Louise Arbour, a Canadian judge, said last week the indictments are "on the basis of personal criminal responsibility for ordering, planning, instigating, executing, for aiding and abetting" in 740,000 deportations and 340 murders.

Trying to catch Mr. Milosevic while negotiating with him seems an impossible trick. Since NATO insists that it will not invade Serbia, it must seek agreement with whoever governs there -- Mr. Milosevic at the moment.

NATO steadfastly encourages the mediation efforts of Russia. Viktor Chernomyrdin's job as message carrier and mediator is now more difficult, but more essential.

The indictment adds incentives for Serbs to overthrow Mr. Milosevic, which he prevents by cracking down on opposition. While NATO seeks agreement with him, it is bound to withhold offers of reconstruction aid until his ouster.

At this point, NATO has no alternative to its resolve that the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo must be reversed and, separately, that crimes of genocide must be prevented and punished.

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