Anyone who has read my articles on the ICTY will have concluded that I do not have a high opinion of the tribunal and that I consider it (as a whole) either inept or corrupt or a combination of the two. The recent acquittal of Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic has done nothing to contradict that conclusion.
I should think my readers are quite bored and fed up with reading about joint criminal enterprise and collective guilt – I’m certainly fed up with writing about it – so I will only make a few broader observations on this gloomy last day of autumn.
As an historian, I rely on documentary evidence in order to form conclusions about the past. At a distance of several centuries, it is a hazardous enterprise to attempt to piece together the truth. However, the reliability of one source of information can usually be validated by other sources. There are ways of verifying whether one is reading a fair account or mere propaganda. Historians are constantly re-evaluating how we perceive the past based on new evidence.
I am therefore appalled that, even at the close proximity of twenty years or so and with the wealth of information enabled by the internet, there is such a preponderance of ‘evidence’ that black is white and that 2 + 2 = 19. I am, of course, referring to the ICTY and the media’s collusion in fabricating a veil of lies regarding the 1990’s conflict within the former Yugoslavia. It wouldn’t take a particularly clever historian to realise that there is a huge discrepancy between what happened on the ground and the media or ICTY interpretation of events. If you read the trial transcripts, you will wonder how any sane and reasonable person could conclude what many of the judges have concluded. But what if future historians never bother to read the transcripts? The latest trial judgement for Stanisic and Simatovic is 888 pages; and the transcripts cover more than five years of court proceedings. That is just one trial of many. Who says they will read anything more than the simplistic newspaper reports?
This is the nub of the problem. If an authority as lofty, painstakingly thorough, and supposedly impartial as a United Nations court of law can conclude that the Serb perpetrators of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia were innocent and that the Croatian president who led the defence of his country (one-third of which was brutally occupied by the Serbs for four years) was a war criminal, then what faith can we place in our institutions of authority and justice?
There are, thankfully, glimmers of hope. The resolute fairness of Judge Theodor Meron in the Gotovina et al. appeal and the more recent 581-page dissenting opinion of Judge Jean-Claude Antonetti documenting the overwhelming evidence that no Croatian joint criminal enterprise ever existed are cause for some relief (and hope that the Prlic at al. appeal will be successful). And a smattering of known war criminals has been rightly convicted. But in many ways this is all too little too late. Milosevic died before his trial could be completed. Mladic, Karadzic, and Hadzic continue to stymie the legal process. Even the Croatian government has surrendered to political opportunism and neglected to deny the deceitful allegations against the Tudjman government or to defend Croatia’s defensive actions during a time of war.
It all began, however, with the pusillanimous response of the international community in the early 1990’s. By the end of the war, any notion of a just outcome lay dead among the rotting corpses of Vukovar and Srebrenica. And the doctrine of moral equivalence was cemented in place when the Serbs were rewarded with half of Bosnia instead of punished for their vile ethnic cleansing.
As to the future, it would be terribly naïve to think all this exists in isolation. We live in a world where identifying a terrorist by their avowed religion is considered jumping to conclusions, where it is deemed more cruel to point out that an unborn child has a beating heart than to kill the very same child for no better reason than that (s)he was unwanted, and where police refuse to even try to protect property from rioters. To quote a rather popular television series, “winter is coming”….