- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2001


Three different standards are now applicable on the war crimes issue one for Croatia, one for Serbia, and one for Bosnia-Herzegovina. The commitment of the United Nations chief war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte in apprehending and trying the chief culprits is not in doubt, as her recent visit to Belgrade demonstrated. Under serious question, however, are the political and military calculations of NATO leaders.
In the case of Croatia, a strict standard has been set for determining guilt since the demise of the Tudjman regime, one that could envelop a broad stratum of military and political leaders. In the case of Bosnia, a double-sided standard has been applied as indictments have been issued and arrests made when an individual is no longer considered indispensable for preserving the Dayton agenda.
In the case of Serbia, a lax and flexible standard now applies. Western leaders have paid mere lip service to the arrest of a war criminal in a perverse effort to keep President Vojislav Kostunica in power. Clearly, war crimes have become an issue of political expediency rather than a question of justice, morality and "Western values."
The democratic administration in Zagreb agrees that Croats involved in war crimes during the war of independence from Yugoslavia should be punished. Unfortunately, the tribunal's policies may criminalize the entire Croatian war effort by defining all military actions as potentially criminal. A minority of Croatian soldiers were involved in civilian massacres while high-ranking political figures in Zagreb condoned the killings in the pursuit of "ethnically pure" territories. But their policies should not be confused with the efforts of the vast majority of Croatian soldiers and civilians who fought to recapture occupied lands against a brutal enemy supported by Slobodan Milosevic.
Croatian leaders have increasingly questioned the tribunal's independence from international politics. They are outraged by the way the process has worked. When Mr. Tudjman and the Croatian military were useful for Western leaders as a counterforce to the Yugoslav army, few indictments were issued and these were primarily against Mr. Tudjman's "executioners" in Bosnia.
However, since a democratic government was installed early last year and Croatia became widely considered as stable and secure, pressures intensified on Zagreb to "fully cooperate" with The Hague. What this meant in practice were demands to reveal military and intelligence documents and to conduct extensive investigations that in some cases could actually endanger state security.
In the case of Serbia, by contrast, pressures have remained minimal largely because Western leaders fear that pursuing Mr. Milosevic and company too vigorously will undermine Mr. Kostunica and any hope for democracy and regional stability. As a result, they have tacitly condoned the deal that Mr. Kostunica struck with the Milosevic war criminal apparatus last October and allowed "Yugoslavia" to gain entry to several international organizations without having to deliver anything in return. Indeed, the West has thrown away valuable bargaining chips that could have been used to eliminate the principal instigators and practitioners of genocide.
Such contradictory policies by Western leaders send precisely the wrong message to both Croatia and Serbia. Belgrade calculates that the threat of instability (whether real or imaginary) works wonders in extracting concessions from Brussels. Maintaining Mr. Milosevic somewhere in the background both frightens and persuades Western leaders that too much pressure should not be exerted on Mr. Kostunica. This in turn encourages nationalist arrogance and a disregard for international norms. In the recent meeting between Messrs. Kostunica and Milosevic the deposed Serbian leader sought reassurance that he would not be extradited to The Hague. Mr. Kostunica subsequently reiterated that the constitution barred the deportation of any Yugoslav national to a foreign country.
Zagreb is dismayed that after 10 years of aggression and genocide, Serbia is not being held accountable for its actions against its neighbors. Instead, Croatia's pro-Western and reformist administration is vilified for not being more accommodating. This in turn encourages revanchist and extremist sentiments in the country and could give a boost to populist and nationalist formations waiting in the political wings.
The third standard on war crimes has been applied in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where former Bosnian Serb leader Biljana Plavsic voluntarily surrendered to stand trial for war crimes. The lesson in Bosnia is that if you gain a prominent position and perform the minimum requirements for enforcing the Dayton accords in order to garner international support, then you too can be immune from arrest.
Alternatively, in Bosnia, if you have stolen enough resources, accumulated sufficient weaponry and beefy bodyguards, and have political protectors in Belgrade, then your chances of evading arrest remain high. Without power, resources or ammunition, you had better seek shelter in Serbia where you will be protected by the "promise of democracy."
Although triple standards and political expediency may appear necessary from a distance, in practice they will corrode both the legitimacy of the international court and the consolidation of democratic governance and the rule of law throughout the region.

Janusz Bugajski is director of Eastern European Affairs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

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