- The Washington Times - Monday, March 4, 2002

Former President Slobodan Milosevic has enjoyed using the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague as his stage for the past two weeks, decrying the legitimacy of the court, and blaming NATO and Kosovar rebels for war crimes. Now Pierre-Richard Prosper, the American at-large ambassador for war crimes, is helping the former dictator's defense by announcing that the Bush administration will press for the closing of the U.N. war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda by 2008.
"When war crimes do occur, we look first to a state's domestic system for action," he told the House International Relations Committee on Feb. 28. While the sentiment may be correct, in propaganda terms, this is beyond what the former Serbian dictator could hope for. Mr. Milosevic, who has been charged with genocide and crimes against humanity, was handed over to The Hague against the wishes of many Serbs as well as Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, who wanted to prosecute him only on corruption charges, not for war crimes.
Countries such as Rwanda and Yugoslavia should be encouraged to develop their own domestic judicial system. But for countries that have had most of their institutions destroyed by prolonged war, the domestic system is often inadequate. For instance, Yugoslavia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was recently christened to investigate crimes of the past decade, is not yet fully functional, Mr. Kostunica admitted in a recent interview at The Washington Times. Two other leaders charged with genocide and war crimes from the former Yugoslavia Gen. Ratko Mladic, the commander of Bosnian Serb forces during the Bosnian war; and Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb president are also still on the loose. Each was charged with the killing of some 7,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica. NATO tried last week to capture Mr. Karadzic, and Mr. Mladic is reported to be protected in Belgrade. For such cases, the tribunal at The Hague is needed more than ever.
It seems Mr. Prosper and Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic who handed Mr. Milosevic over to The Hague but agrees with Mr. Prosper that the tribunal is too costly, lacks efficiency and is too slow should be reminded that they are dealing with a man charged with masterminding wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo that cost 200,000 lives. The prosecution has 300 witnesses. Unlike the Nazis, he did not leave a paper trail. Also, it took two years after the Kosovo war was over, plus mass demonstrations by his people and a 36-hour stand-off with the police to dethrone Mr. Milosevic and throw him in jail. Such a trial is not going to be cheap and quick.
Now is not the time for the Bush administration to be giving a hand to Mr. Milosevic one of the primary catalysts for terror in Europe. The United States should not undermine the one institution that could grant justice.

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