The Hague Tribunal Verdict And The Situation Of Uncertainty In Europe

The Hague Tribunal Verdict And The Situation Of Uncertainty In Europe

On Wednesday 22 November 2017, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia backed by UN, in Hague, convicted former Serb General Ratko Mladic and sentenced him for life imprisonment regarding his involvement in war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia Herzegovina. With the completion of this trial, the gruesome chapter of gruesome witnessed in the European history came to closure and the world hopefully learned more about the killings in Sarajevo, Kozarac and many other cities for which Mladic bore personal responsibility.

Bone by bone, the remains of 6971 victims from Srebrenica had been exhumed, identified by name and reburied. Survivors had come forward to share what they had experienced. A high-ranking Serbian officer had acknowledged his own role in the massacre.

Paradoxically, the verdict has been announced at the time when Europe itself is undergoing tumultuous times and we are witnessing the rising tide of differences based on ethnicity in European politics. Experts say there could be spillover effects in future of the recent decision by the war crimes tribunal.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in Hague came to a conclusion that Ratko Mladic, 75 years of age at the time, wanted a separate Serbian state and in pursuit of this ambition he inflicted atrocities upon non-Serbs, Croats and Muslims living in Bosnia. The killing-spree triggered off in 1992 and continued till 1995. These four years witnessed the most horrendous events where people were brutally killed and their bodies mutilated. The capital city of Bosnia, known as Sarajevo, was enveloped by the Serb forces where Muslims were killed through the use of sniper rifles and their houses destroyed by bomb shelling. During these four years, approximately 8000 Muslims including infant children and women lost their lives and the camps established under the auspices of United Nations in Srebrenica were also attacked by the Serb forces. It was not until the intervention of NATO forces that the massacre of innocent Muslims at the hands of Serb forces was brought to a halt. Mladic defended his position by citing history as justification for the crimes carried out by his army. The Dahis were Muslim mercenaries in the service of the Ottoman Empire and had brutally put down a Serbian insurrection in the early 19th century.For Mladic, the Bosnian Muslims of Srebrenica were the modern-day “Turks” and had to pay with their lives for the deeds of some distant co-religionists nearly two centuries earlier.

The judge of International Criminal tribunal observed that never before in history had such incidents of barbarity against the humanity been witnessed. On one hand the verdict enunciated by the tribunal has explicitly drawn a line upholding the principles of international human rights law, but on the other hand the political scenario in Europe is uncertain. In juxtaposition with Balkan wars, the eruption of ethnic differences/nationalistic fervor in European politics is gaining intensity day by day. Although this intensity has not risen to such exponential height akin to what was witnessed in Bosnia in 1992, yet it may have a deep impact on Europe’s political scenario in future, resulting in catastrophic consequences. Recently, voters in Austria were found to be inclining towards right-wing parties and a similar pattern was witnessed in the politics of Hungary and Poland. Furthermore, in Germany as well, the right-wing party was able to secure a huge number of votes which ushered it into the Bundestag (German Parliament) for the first time. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also had to face a lot of resistance due to her support to grant protection to Muslim refugees from various states.

Britain is on the verge of completing the process of making exit from its European Union membership keeping in consideration the fact that the majority of the Brexit supporters demonstrated their concern and feelings of insecurity towards immigrants. Likewise, the separatist movement of the Catalonian province in Spain is also based on nationalistic fervor and ideological differences with the centre.

Before the conclusion of trial proceedings of Ratko Mladic, his political boss, Radovan Karadzic, former Bosnian Serb leader, had already been sentenced for forty years and the former Serb leader, Slobodan Milosevic, died in 2006 during trial proceedings.

Although the verdict of the tribunal is a good sign, the wounds of Bosnians cannot be healed. On the other hand Ratko Mladic vowed to file an appeal against the verdict. The present Serbian President has also expressed reservations on the verdict by declaring it as a campaign to malign Serbia. He also blamed the then US President Bill Clinton for opposing the creation of a separate Serbian state by activating NATO forces against Serbia.

It was not until 2008 that Serbia finally achieved independence. It is now hopeful to get membership of the European Union by 2025. In Geneva, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, described Mladic as the “epitome of evil” and said his conviction was a “momentous victory for justice”.

In my view, the trial in the Hague is the most significant war crimes case in Europe since the Nuremberg trials.


An earlier version of this article appeared in the Daily Times. Republished here with permission.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of or any organisation with which he might be associated.

Sheraz Zaka

Author: Sheraz Zaka

The writer is a constitutional lawyer, human rights activist and teacher. He can be contacted at [email protected]