Sic semper tyrannis

Our view: Civilized nations must pursue murderous despots

July 23, 2008

Some crimes horrify because of their brutality, others because of the sheer number of their victims. The alleged crimes of Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader accused of orchestrating Europe's worst massacre since World War II, were a mad stew of cruelty and mass murder that made the term "ethnic cleansing" synonymous with evil.

This week, after a decade-long manhunt, Serbian police finally arrested Mr. Karadzic on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. His capture, though long delayed, should send a message to tyrants everywhere: You can run, you can hide, but sooner or later you will be found and called to account for your despicable actions.

Mr. Karadzic, an ally of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, became president of Bosnia's Serbs after the former Yugoslavia descended into chaos and civil war in the early 1990s. He initiated a campaign to expel Bosnia's Muslims and Croats, which led to the murders of 8,000 unarmed Muslim men and boys near the Bosnian town of Srebrenica. That massacre is at the center of his indictment for war crimes by a U.N. tribunal in 1995. After NATO troops intervened to stop the slaughter, Mr. Karadzic went into hiding. Later, the European Union conditioned Serbian membership in the trade community on his arrest and that of his top general, Ratko Mladic.

Though Mr. Mladic remains at large, Serbia's new government apparently felt secure enough to buck the right-wing nationalists for whom Mr. Karadzic remains a hero. The fact that he recently lived openly in Belgrade (though with a false name) suggests authorities could have found him a lot sooner. But whatever political calculation caused them to act now, the world is a better place because Mr. Karadzic is behind bars.

"Sic semper tyrannis," goes the Latin motto: "Tyrants will always get what they deserve." That's still more ideal than reality for rogue leaders such as Sudan's Omar al-Bashir, North Korea's Kim Jong Il and Zimbabwe's Robert G. Mugabe. But brick by brick, the U.N. tribunal is constructing a framework for holding murderous despots to account, and meting out justice for their victims.

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