The Bush administration is now demanding that the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Carla Del Ponte, bring her prosecutions to an end.
Washington is insisting that war crimes cases relating to the Balkan wars of the 1990s be tried either in domestic courts or be given an amnesty. This shift not only marks a dramatic change in U.S. policy toward the ICTY, but more importantly, it is a fatal blow to the power and credibility of Mrs. Del Ponte.
In a recent interview, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton told me Washington is deeply concerned that the ICTY, rather than fostering ethnic reconciliation, has emerged as a threat to regional stability. “There is a very real risk that the ICTY prosecutions will not resolve the situation in the Balkans,” Mr. Bolton said, “but will create new animosities that lead to tensions in the future.”
He emphasized the Bush administration is demanding war crimes cases at The Hague be sent back to national domestic courts. Mr. Bolton and other senior State Department officials are finally realizing what Mrs. Del Ponte and her fellow left-wing globalists have refused to acknowledge: The ICTY has degenerated into a politicized tribunal that has failed to live up to its original mandate.
The irony is that the Clinton administration was largely responsible for creating the ICTY. Washington, however, now realizes that it has unleashed a Frankenstein monster. Instead of being an impartial body that seeks to punish those who committed or ordered war crimes, the tribunal has become a vehicle by which Mrs. Del Ponte has sought to rewrite the history of the Balkan wars. She has abused her office by issuing deeply flawed and weak indictments. The most obvious example is the bogus indictment against fugitive Croatian Gen. Ante Gotovina, the commander of a 1995 military operation that effectively ended the Croatian-Serbian conflict.
As Mr. Bolton notes, the problem with the ICTY is that it has no democratic accountability. Hence, there are no checks or balances against the misuse of power. Therefore, the Bush administration has concluded the only solution is to kick war crimes cases back to national domestic courts.
“That is why our strategy with respect to the ICTY is to bring these prosecutions to an end and to return responsibility to Serbia, Croatia and to the other nations,” Mr. Bolton said, “because, after all, many of the alleged crimes were carried out in their name and they need to confront that reality. They need to make the decisions whether to prosecute or not to prosecute Serbs or Croats respectively.”
The senior Bush administration official emphasized that “responsibility” for trying alleged war crimes “should rest on the shoulders of the people who have to live with the decisions they make.”
Ultimately, the United States rightly believes that the ICTY has become not only an undemocratic institution, but a direct threat to the development of democracy throughout the former Yugoslavia. Its greatest flaw is that, by virtue of being an international tribunal with little accountability, it is retarding the growth of independent judicial bodies and the rule of law within Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia. For viable democracies to take root in the stony soil of the Balkans, it is imperative to cultivate fully functioning legal institutions.
“One of the downsides of any distant court is that it takes away responsibility, and I don’t think that is conducive to the political maturation of societies that we hope will become democratic and realize that they have to confront actions that their prior governments took,” Mr. Bolton said. “So that is why our approach to the ICTY and with the Rwanda tribunal is to make and create institutions in the respective countries and to turn that authority back over to them.”
The record is now clear: The ICTY has been a dismal failure. The trial of the former Serbian strongman, Slobodan Milosevic, continues to drag on with no end in sight. Notorious Bosnian Serb leaders Gen. Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic remain at large. The Gotovina indictment threatens to destabilize Croatia. Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians feel they will never receive justice. Serbs perceive the tribunal as being biased against them.
Mrs. Del Ponte has managed to accomplish what no other person has before: Temporarily unite the warring peoples of the former Yugoslavia in their opposition to her. She is the Lady Macbeth of the Balkans, an unscrupulous political climber with delusions of grandeur. And like Lady Macbeth, Mrs. Del Ponte’s lust for power has led to her downfall.
Washington is right to yank her off the stage.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is editor of the Ripon Forum magazine and communications director at the Ripon Society, a Republican think tank.