Bringing War Criminals to Justice

Following the visit to the United States of Serbian President Boris Tadic, news reports have surfaced alleging that a deal is in the works for the turning over of wanted war criminal Ratko Mladic to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. If true, the deal would represent a compromise between the United States and Serbia that has ramifications for the entire Balkan region.

According to the private intelligence firm Stratfor, meetings between the Serb President, U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney, and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice September 5-6 reportedly discussed the possibility of delaying a United Nations decision on the independence of Kosovo in exchange for the arrest and extradition of one of the most wanted war criminals from the conflict in the Balkans.

Ratko Mladic has been wanted by the ICC since 1996 for various war crimes and genocide in connection with the siege of Sarajevo and the murder of nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebenica in 1995. Mladic was a major player in the Serb campaign of ethnic cleansing of Croats and Muslims. He is known for his extreme brutality and disregard for human life, prompting the United States to offer a $5 million reward for his capture.

While most people would like to see criminals like Mladic brought to justice, the deal between Serbia and the United States is important for another reason. Kosovo has been adamant about its desire for independence, and Serbia has been equally adamant about preventing that independence. By working out this deal with President Tadic, the United States is temporarily placating Serbia while only delaying the inevitable.

The Serb government says that an independent Kosovo would threaten Balkan stability and security, leading to further conflict in a region already torn apart by ethnic strife in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Empire. The United States came to the rescue of the Kosovar population in 1999, both militarily and by flying refugees to the United States in the middle of the ethnic cleansing campaign.

By agreeing to delay a decision on Kosovo’s independence until sometime after Serb parliamentary elections in 2007, the United States is hoping to prevent instability in the region, for at least the next year, while simultaneously facilitating the arrest of a major war criminal.

In the end, though, Kosovo will likely follow in the footsteps of its neighbor, Montenegro, which gained its independence from Serbia earlier this year. The United States knows this, and is likely using the delay of the UN decision to ensure that one of the world’s most notorious war criminals is brought to justice.

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