The arrest of Radovan Karadzic by the Serb authorities is something we can all applaud. He is undoubtedly a war criminal. As self-proclaimed President of Serbian Bosnia and in the name of Greater Serb nationalism, he was responsible for the attempted ethnic cleansing of the Bosnian Muslims and Croats. He allowed concentration camps to be built, he encouraged Ratko Mladic, his military commander, to shell Sarajevo, and gravest of all, to massacre about 8,000 Muslims at Srebrenica. These past thirteen years he’s been in hiding. The United Nations forces, the world’s intelligence services, and certainly the Serbs in Belgrade, knew where he was, but hesitated to pick him up for fear of stirring up the Serb nationalism he claimed to represent. When arrested, he was found to have disguised his trademark quiff as a hippy pony-tail, grown the sort of luxuriant beard that Orthodox clergy have, and was making a living as a health guru.
At which point, moral clarity starts to blur. Serbia has a new government, one most anxious to join the European Union. The EU, however, has made the arrest of Karadzic and Mladic a pre-condition of joining, and the Serbs evidently decided to pick him up out of political expediency, and not for his crimes. Even that might be all right, if they were going to try him in Belgrade, and use his trial to put the record straight, and give the Serb population the opportunity to come to terms with crimes committed in their names. As a precedent, the fact that an Iraqi court tried Saddam Hussein helped to evolve Iraqi identity and solidarity.
But no, Karadzic is likely to be extradited to the U.N-backed Special Court in The Hague. Judges of other nationalities would then try him. That court changes the rules of procedure as it goes along, it admits hearsay as evidence, and its politicized purpose means that it is “little more than a kangaroo court,” as Anthony Daniels once described it. That is the court in which the Serb President Slobodan Milosevic, once Karadzic’s mentor but later rival, was tried. The Milosevic case lasted four years and cost $200 million, ending only because Milosevic and the presiding judge were both dead. This is justice?
Besides, the powers that be – whether Serb or others — have jumped on Karadzic only because they are able to do so, and in order to cut the EU deal into the bargain. The sinister Mladic is likely to be arrested pretty soon too. Karadzic is of course a wicked man for whom it is more or less impossible to feel anything like pity. But the world is full of men equally or even more wicked, such as Robert Mugabe, Fidel Castro, Kim Jong-Il, General Omar al-Bashir in Sudan, and they’ve made sure that nobody is in a position really to jump on them or to cut political deals at their expense. Those who end up in international courts are victims of power politics, to put it plainly, and they cannot expect a fair trial.