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FIRM GROUND AT THE HAGUE



Published: Wed, August 8, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Los Angeles Times: With the conviction last week of Radislav Krstic, a Bosnian Serb former general, on charges of genocide, the newly constituted United Nations tribunal in The Hague passed its first test with flying colors. The practical and moral significance of Judge Almiro Rodrigues' words as he read the verdict should not be underestimated: "You are guilty of genocide, Gen. Krstic." Not mistakes, not murder.

Revisionist historians will claim that such mass killings as those in Srebrenica, where Krstic did his work, never took place. But the tribunal's findings will never be repealed.

The bluntness of Judge Rodrigues, of Portugal, should serve as a model for dealing with former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, now in custody. It should also shame NATO into going after other fugitive Serbian war criminals, most notably Gen. Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic. These are much bigger fish than Krstic, who carried out but did not order the Srebrenica massacres.

Genocidal war: Aggressively prosecuting Serbian killers is important for several reasons. The trials ensure that average Serbians receive a clear portrait of the crimes committed by their nation and government. Just as the Nuremberg war trials methodically unraveled the Nazi murder machine and exposed it to the German nation, so can The Hague tribunal show how the Serbian leadership systematically went about planning and conducting a genocidal war campaign. The trial of Krstic has already done much to further this task. Like the Nazis, the Serbs attempted to disguise and hide records and evidence of the July 1995 mass killings in Srebrenica, euphemistically referring to slain Bosnians as "packages."

Apart from setting the record straight, justice also demands that Mladic and Karadzic be prosecuted. Both were in the field and spurred troops to commit barbarous acts in Serbia's attempt to crush Muslims in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995. NATO forces have not yet vigorously attempted to capture the two men, presumably for fear of antagonizing local Serbs. But it is inconsistent to go after Krstic and Milosevic and turn a blind eye to these other evil men.

There is also no gainsaying that, however many prosecutions it carries out, the West cannot remove the blot on its own record. Its sins were of omission. Gen. Bernard Janvier of France, the United Nations commander for Bosnia, ignored increasingly desperate pleas for help from vastly outnumbered Dutch peacekeepers as Serbian forces closed in on Srebrenica.

The tribunal cannot apportion justice for every error or restore the Serbs' victims or end communal violence in the Balkans. But its trials will have served their purpose if they convict the chief perpetrators -- all of them -- and thus perhaps deter future acts of genocide. That is firm enough ground to stand on.




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