Tuesday, July 22, 2008

We Finally Caught The Son of a Bitch

I've been alternately obsessed with and merely very interested in the status of Balkan war criminal fugitives for many years now -- a few readers will remember the old "Is Ante Gotovina a war criminal" dispute I got into with a stray Croat who thought of himself as a patriot. Anyway, for someone like me, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives he ruined, today is sort of like Christmas.

[Radovan] Karadzic, the wartime leader of Bosnian Serbs, was arrested Monday night in a Belgrade suburb, officials said. A judge has ordered his transfer to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, to face genocide charges, war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic said.

Karadzic has three days to appeal the ruling. His lawyer, Sveta Vujacic, said he will launch the process to fight extradition on the last day, Friday, to thwart authorities' wishes for his immediate transfer.

Karadzic — a psychiatrist accused of masterminding the deadly wartime siege of Sarajevo and the executions of up to 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica during Bosnia's 1992-95 war, Europe's worst massacre since World War II — had topped the tribunal's most-wanted list for years.

It's excellent news that he's finally been caught, but there are several sort of complicating factors here. The tribunal in The Hague is set to shut its doors fairly soon, which has always been a concern, and Karadzic's military right hand, Ratko Mladic, is still at large. Karadzic made a lot of the war-time decisions to rape this and pillage that, but Mladic carried them out and is no less guilty. It's never been clear, from all that I've read, what the plan is if Karadzic or Mladic happen to be caught without enough time to prepare for a trial.

Another interested facet of this bloody diamond is that no one in their right minds expected Karadzic to be captured first, or even at all. There's been fairly consistent chatter about Mladic being found by some government or other, secret negotiations for his surrender, his family being pressured for information about his location, etc. etc. Karadzic, it's been assumed, has been so well hidden and so far underground somewhere in the former Soviet bloc that he'll never appear. Apparently finding him was an accident that happened because law enforcement was hot on Mladic's trail.

Serbian security services found Karadzic, 63, on Monday while looking for another top war crimes suspect facing genocide charges, Bosnian Serb wartime commander Gen. Ratko Mladic, Ljajic said.

Karadzic "was arrested Monday evening near Belgrade while changing locations," he said. "International pressure was to arrest Mladic, and a few had expected that Karadzic would be captured."

It's never made a lot of sense to me why the focus has always been Mladic, but I don't pretend to understand the ins and outs of international law enforcement. I thought grabbing Hitler would be at least as important as grabbing Rommel, but that just shows why I'm not working at the U.N.

Anyway, why am I so fixated on this? It's easy to forget that once upon a time, the whole world watched as the worst human rights atrocities in Europe since World War II unfolded on television. I was about the age when you first start paying attention to the world, and for me it was a formative experience to realize that there's still horror in every corner of civilization, most of it inflicted by people on other people. The rallying cry of The Hague, which has had a lot of critics for being slow, costly and inefficient, has always been, "Human rights violations do not go unpunished." After years of questions about why so many war criminals have yet to be captured, this is a moment for human rights watchers to savor.

The worst massacre was in Srebrenica in 1995, when Serb troops led by Mladic overran the U.N.-protected enclave sheltering Bosnian Muslims. Mladic's troops rounded up the entire population and took the men away for execution.

By war's end in late 1995, an estimated 250,000 people were dead and another 1.8 million driven from their homes.

Under the U.N. indictment, Karadzic faces 11 counts of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and other atrocities committed between 1992 to 1996.

If they can catch Mladic in time to try him, maybe the Balkans can talk about joining the EU and a page, for once, can really be turned.