L’éditorial de Béchir Ben Yahmed (BBY) intitulé “Sombre tableau du continent” offre une peinture terne et simpliste de la situation du continent. La substance de l’article prête ainsi le flanc à la critique et à l’objection sur trois points :
Les clichés et la dichotomie artificielle
Les statistiques de routine
Clichés et dichotomie
D’entrée de jeu, Béchir Ben Yahmed évoque le cliché de l’afro-optimisme, dont le revers est, on le sait, “l’afro-pessismisme”. Ces expressions équivalent certes à l’euro-pessimisme et à l’euro-optimisme. Mais la comparaison est déplacée et l’on doit admettre que l’application de ces mots à l’Afrique est plus significative. Pourquoi ? Parce que les pays européens ont, indéniablement, des économies, des infrastructures sociale et des institutions culturelle plus solides. Alors que l’Afrique, elle, ne parvient pas à se dégager de la tutelle et de l’hégémonie occidentales. Les fluctuations boursières, les contradictions politiques, etc. fondent l’optmisme des uns et le pessimisme des autres sur le “Vieux Continent”, certes. Mais les populations et les élites n’en bénéficient pas moins de niveaux de vie élevés. Cela n’est pas le cas en Afrique, où tous les pays sont des entités à deux niveaux ; à la base se trouvent des masses paupérisées depuis des décennies, au sommet trônent des élites politiques récentes, qui, en général, sont à la remorque de l’Europe. Les sociétés africaines vivent en permanence dans cette disjonction entre dirigeants et dirigés. Un exemple majeur concrétise ce fossé ; d’un côté les populations ont “leur langue maternelle ; c’est-à-dire une langue ni écrite ni lue, qui ne permet que l’incertaine et pauvre culture orale” ; de l’autre, les dirigeants “n’entendent et n’utilisent” que les langues europénnes. Je cite ici Portrait du Colonisé par Albert Memmi, compatriote Tunisien de Béchir Ben Yahmed. En un mot, afro-optimisme et afro-optimisme sont des concepts et des expressions de l’élite africaine (francophone, anglophone, lusophone). Ces mots n’appartiennent pas au répertoire lexical et ne relèvent pas du comportement linguistique des populations. Autant dire que la distinction entre Africains optimistes et pessimistes constitute plutôt une dichotomie artificielle et superficielle.
Les statistiques habituelles
M. Yahmed continue avec une sélection de statistiques qui confirment sa son opinion présente, mais pas son parcours de combattant et sa vision originelle de l’Afrique. On relève les passages suivants :
Le produit intérieur brut du Nigeria et de l’Afrique du Sud, respectivement de 415 milliards et de 280 milliards de dollars par an.
La position économique de ces deux pays
46,7% de la production totale de l’Afrique subsaharienne
31,9% de la production africaine en général
Le poids démographique de quatre pays :
Nigéria, 184 millions d’habitants
Ethiopie : 91 millions
Egypte : 91 millions
RDC, 85 millions
Béchir Ben Yahmed évoque ensuite, sans pause ni transition, des faits d’actualité dominants au Nigéria et en Afrique du Sud. Ainsi, parlant du Nigéria, il écrit que le président Muhammadu Buhari est “malade et … ne dit rien — ni à son peuple ni aux Africains — du mal qui l’a maintenu éloigné de son pays pendant deux longs mois et l’empêche de reprendre son travail à un rythme normal”. Mais BBY aurait dû rappeler l’acte de transfert provisoire du pouvoir au vice-président Yemi Osinbajo, signé par Buhari et approuvé par la branche judiciaire (Sénat et Assemblée fédérale). De la sorte, l’équipe Buhari n’a pas totalement répété l’indécision du gouvernement de Umaru Yar’adua en 2008.
Quant à l’Afrique du Sud, l’éditorial dénonce le comportement du président Jacob Zuma “notoirement corrompu et dont l’obsession est de voir son ex-femme lui succéder au terme de son deuxième et dernier mandat. Pour se protéger d’éventuelles poursuites judiciaires”. L’article met ici en exergue un mal plus étendu, à savoir, la mal-gouvernance des héritiers de Nelson Mandela. Car avant les scandales financiers de Zuma, le pays de l’Arc-en-ciel a connu l’incompétence et l’affairisme de Thabo Mbeki. Négociateur dans le conflit ivoirien dans les années 2004-2005, il essuya la contestation de son rôle par les opposants du président Gbagbo, qui se plaignirent de son zèle à placer plutôt les produits d’exportation de son pays, et de sa partialité.
Cela dit, les économies du Nigéria et de l’Afrique du Sud sont —à l’image du reste du continent — exocentrées et dépendent de l’exploitation pétrolière et de l’extraction minière, respectivement. Pire, les deux sont loin de panser les plaies profondes de leur passé et de corriger les handicaps de leur présent. Pour le Nigeria, ce sont la guerre civile du Biafra, (1966-1970), la confiscation du pouvoir par l’armée pendant trois décennies environ, la corruption, les insurrections armées du MEND dans le Delta du Sud-est, les ravages encore plus criminels de Boko Haram dans le Nord-est. En Afrique du Sud, la libération et l’élection du président Mandela marquèrent la fin de l’Apartheid, certes, et le changement de régime politique. Mais, les rênes du pouvoir économique n’ont pas changé de main. Par exemple, citons le massacre en 2012 de 34 mineurs grévistes de la mine de platine de Marikana. Les forces de l’ordre au service du gouvernement de l’ANC commirent une tragédie qui rappelle la boucherie de Sharpeville en 1960. L’ex-couple Jacob et Nkosazana Dhlamini Zuma réussira-t-il là où le duo Bill et Hillary Clinton a échoué ? Leur plan tient-il en compte la crise endémique de la société africaine, dont certaines couches affichent une xénophobie d’autant plus regrettable que la lutte contre l’Apartheid fut soutenue par la plupart des pays africains ?
Un éditorial qui décontextualise l’Afrique
L’éditorial de BBY contient seulement le nom de l’Afrique. Il ne désigne nommément ni l’Asie, ni l’Amérique, ni l’Europe. Et pourtant l’auteur sait à quel point les autres parties du monde sont redevables à l’Afrique en matières premières. Que font-ils, au nom de la solidarité humaine, pour prévenir les dérives récurrentes ou pour aider à punir les auteurs de crimes de sang et de guerre ? L’Afrique est le seul continent à ne pas siéger en permanence au Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU. A-t-elle une chance d’en être membre un jou ? Voire. En attendant, la pendule de l’Histoire marche sans arrêt. Elle balance entre la paix et la guerre, la prospérité et la misère, la droiture et la corruption. La stagnation et les revers de l’Afrique sont évidents. Mais en même temps l’on note des efforts de correction et de prévention. Ainsi, des magistrats du continent siégeant dans les Chambres africaines extraordinaires, (CAE), et en vertu d’un accord entre l’Union africaine (UA) et le Sénégal, ont jugé, reconnu coupable et condamné l’ex-dictateur tchadien Hissène Habré, le 9 janvier dernier. De même, sous la menace d’une intervention militaire coordonnée et d’une arrestation par les forces de la CEDEAO, Yahya Jammeh a dû céder le pouvoir à Adama Barrow, son successeur démocratiquement élu. Il y a donc une dynamique positive que l’éditorial de Béchir Ben Yahmed ne mentionne pas. L’article réflète une vision en tunnel qui ne sied guère au fondateur de l’hebdomadaire Jeune Afrique et président du Groupe éponyme. Pis, aucune ébauche de solution n’est indiquée. Et Le ton pessimiste persiste du début à la fin. Il ne sert à rien d’énumérer les faillites du continent, si l’on ne le replace dans le contexte de son passé historique négatif, c’est-à-dire l’esclavage, la colonisation, la néo-colonisation et la perpétuation des hégémonies étrangères nonobstant les indépendances nominales, juridiques et politiques. De même, l’Afrique souffre le plus, certes. Mais les autres contients ne s’en tirent pas non plus à bon compte. Du Brésil aux USA, en passant par la Chine, l’Inde, la Russie, l’Union Européenne, le ras-le-bol des laissés-pour compter et la réprobration contre les politiciens et les élites économiques se manifestent, ouvertement, ou en sourdine.Et la mondialisation en porte la responsabilité. L’environnement global du 21è siècle est un géant aux pieds d’argiles. Sa tête (les économies avancées) est dans les nuages post-industriels et cybernétiques. Mais une grande partie de son corps (les damnés de la terre, Fanon) vit 20e siècle, voire au 19e. En particulier, l’Afrique gémit entre le marteau des hégémonies extérieures et l’enclume d’élites nationales défaillantes et dans certains criminelles. Toutefois, l’épidemie Ebola (2013-2014) a montré à quel point la fragilité de l’être humain et la nécessité de la solidarité planétaire.
Pour terminer, il est étonnant de la part de Béchir Ben Yahmed, auteur du livre Les années d’espoir : 1960-1979, d’appliquer à l’Afrique des oeillères réductrices, simplificatrices et simplistes. Engagé dans les tranchées depuis son départ du gouvernement de Habib Bourguiba en 1957, il continue de jouer un rôle prééminent dans la presse francophone. Pour ma part, je réitère ici mes remerciements à Jeune Afrique pour sa dénonciation infatigable de la dictature de Sékou Touré, président de la Guinée (1958-1984). Je compte republier sur mon site Camp Boiro Mémorial le dossier élaboré que BBY et son équipe exposèrent au public durant le « Complot Peul », qui aboutit à la liquidation atroce de Telli Diallo, premier secrétaire général de l’Organisation de l’Unité Africaine, devenue l’Union Africaine.
Ce qui manque à l’éditorial “Sombre tableau du continent”, c’est la longue expérience, la sagacité et la largesse de vue d’un acteur avéré et d’un témoin émérite de l’Afrique contemporaine.
I reprint here the Introduction (21 pages) and, next, Chapter 13 (“The Legacy”, 29 pages) of Julian Borges’ book entitled The Butcher’s Trail : how the search for Balkan war criminals became the world’s most successful manhunt. New York : Other Press, 2016. xxx, 400 pages : illustrations, maps. That said, I encourage BlogGuinée’s visitors to get and read this work. It is a well-written account of a key episode in the permanent and worldwide struggle against dictatorship, human rights violations, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Readers beware! This book is neither casual nor trivial. It stands out asrather substantial and substantive. And it reads as a well-researched, organized and written contribution. It is, in sum, the fruitful labor of an inquisitive mind and an investigative journalist who (a) has great mastery of his native tongue, and (b) built up a detailed knowledge of his topic. Julian Borge’s admirable talent serves here a noble cause: the defense of truth through the quest for justice. The author of The Butcher’s Trail remains focused and stays on topic. True, he makes cursory connections to related facts and events. However, he sticks to the former Yugoslavia, from 1995 to today. I thus selected the above mentioned section because they include references to Africa. These are just tidbits. However, the entries convey potent and relevant connotations; one points to Nelson Mandela, the other to the International Criminal Court.
Nelson Mandela Contrary to Robert Mugabe, —his junior comrade— the late Madiba decided to leave active politics after just one term as the first elected president of post-Apartheid South Africa. Yet, in retirement he cast a shining light on his beloved country, his continent and on the entire planet. He still does so posthumously. For death has not dimmed his star. To the contrary, his name is enshrined in the pantheon of the greatest men and women in History. And his symbol as patriot and statesman lives on.
The ICC Julian Borger joins the battle by shedding light on the history of this institution. He writes: “Slobodan Milošević, the Yugoslav president who became the first head of state to stand before an international tribunal for crimes perpetrated in a time of war. ” This sentence debunks the claim that Western powers single out African dictators for investigation, indictment, prosecution and trial. It shatters the myth that the ICC targets only African presidents, or that the international community is engaged in a political and judicial witch hunt against African politicians. So, they seek to elude scrutiny and evade justice by plotting an Africa withdrawal from the ICC. In vain!
The fact is that autocrats, presidents-for-life, tyrants, warlords, and potentates have plagued the continent since the independence series of the 1960s. The list of countries and culprits is tedious: Rwanda (Juvénal Habiyarimana), Zaire/RDC (Mobutu), Kenya (Uhuru Kenyatta), Uganda (Idi Amin), Zimbabwe (Robert Mugabe), Somalia (Syad Bare), Sudan (Omar al-Bashir), Egypt (Hosni Mubarak), Tunisia (Zine El Abidine Ben Ali), Libya (Muammar Gaddafi), Algeria (Bouteflika), Mali (Moussa Konaté), Burkina Faso (Blaise Compaoré), Chad (Hissène Habré), Togo (Gnassingbé Eyadema), Ethiopia (Mengistu Haile Mariam), Eritrea (Isaias Afwerki), Gabon (Omar Bongo), Nigeria (Sani Abacha), Denis Sassou-Nguesso (Congo), CAR (Bokassa), Cameroon (Paul Biya), Equatorial Guinea (Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo), Liberia (Charles Taylor), Sierra Leone (Fode Sankon and the RUF), Gambia (Yahya Jammeh), Côte d’Ivoire (Laurent Gbagbo), etc.
Reconciliation: a code word for impunity Guinea’s current president, Alpha Condé, wants to sweep under the carpet the September 28, 2009 massacre of hundreds of civilians, followed by mass rapes. He refuses to let the judicial branch handle the trial of the members of the military junta headed by former Captain Moussa Dadis Camara. Holding up the investigation, he plan to delay the court as long as he is president. To cover up his maneuvers he has propped up a puppet and sycophantic national commission of truth and reconciliation. Such extra-judicial efforts are cynical, misguided, wrong, vicious, and malevolent. They disregard totally the grievances and calls for justice by plaintiffs collectives that group survivors and family members of Guinea’s death camps and killing fields: Camp Boiro, Camp Keme Bourema, Mont Kakoulima, Mont Gangan, etc. M. Condé’s reconciliation slogan is simply a code word for impunity. But The Butcher’s Trail tells us that the commitment for justice is tireless and permanent. It must go on everywhere, in Guinea and elsewhere around the globe. Note. I have embedded the audio file of Julian Borger’s interview by Scott Simon on National National Public Radio (Washington, DC), Weekend Edition, dated Saturday March 26, 2016. The conversation focuses on the trial of Bosnian war criminal Radovan Karodzic which ended that week in The Hague. The transcript is appended to the mp3 document. Tierno S. Bah
« The gripping, untold story of The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and how the perpetrators of Balkan war crimes were captured by the most successful manhunt in history. Written with a thrilling narrative pull, The Butcher’s Trail chronicles the pursuit and capture of the Balkan war criminals indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague. Borger recounts how Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić—both now on trial in The Hague—were finally tracked down, and describes the intrigue behind the arrest of Slobodan Milošević, the Yugoslav president who became the first head of state to stand before an international tribunal for crimes perpetrated in a time of war. Based on interviews with former special forces soldiers, intelligence officials, and investigators from a dozen countries–most speaking about their involvement for the first time–this book reconstructs a fourteen-year manhunt carried out almost entirely in secret. Indicting the worst war criminals that Europe had known since the Nazi era, the ICTY ultimately accounted for all 161 suspects on its wanted list, a feat never before achieved in political and military history. »
The Echo of Nuremberg
“The Security Council thought we would never become operational. We had no budget. We had nothing. Zero.” —Antonio Cassese, first president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia
The trail came to a halt in a forest clearing. A man emerged from the trees at the agreed time, but the friend he had come to meet was nowhere to be seen. The man waited, feeling increasingly out of place. It was a burning hot day in late July, and he was flabby and pale from years spent in colder climes. He regretted having come home, but he had no real choice. By the summer of 2011, the man had spent seven years as a fugitive, most recently in Russia, and was out of money. The only people on earth prepared to help him were here, in Serbia, where he could surely still count on a handful of true believers from the old days of national struggle. But where were they now? As the appointed hour came and went, the only sounds in the forest were birdsong and the wind in the leaves. But the man was not alone. All along the path as it wound through the trees, he had been watched intently. As he emerged into the clearing, the illusion of solitude lasted just a few more moments before exploding with shouts and a blur of movement. In an instant, there were men all around him in white T-shirts and black knitted masks, pointing guns, gripping him by the wrists and shoulders. One of the men, a police officer, began a recitation: “Goran Hadžić, we are arresting you …” It was a name that had scarcely been heard for years. Even its owner had stopped using it, in favor of a string of aliases. But two decades earlier, Goran Hadžić had been a name to reckon with in this corner of the Balkans. He had been a president, albeit of a trumped-up little statelet with jagged edges—a bite taken out of one reborn country, Croatia, to be chewed and swallowed by another, Serbia, its covetous neighbor. When the exhausted federal experiment that was Yugoslavia collapsed, its constituent republics were left to fight over its corpse. Serbia was the biggest and most predatory, spurred on by the most ruthless leader. Slobodan Milošević truly was a man for all seasons—a Socialist turned banker turned nationalist despot and unflinching war criminal. His preference was for a Serb-dominated Yugoslavia, but if he could not have that, he would carve out a Greater Serbia at the expense of his neighbors. Hadžić was Milošević’s puppet, but the sort of puppet that belongs in a horror film, a bloodied ventriloquist’s dummy. He helped preside over the first large-scale slaughter of innocent civilians in Europe since the Nazi era. From August to November 1991, the early days of Yugoslavia’s dismemberment, the baroque Croatian town of Vukovar, which had sat comfortably by the Danube for centuries, was razed to the ground by Serb artillery. Once the town had fallen, some three hundred Croat men and teenage boys, many of them wounded, were taken from a hospital to a nearby farm where they were beaten and tortured by Serb soldiers and paramilitary volunteers serving with the Yugoslav army. They were driven away at night in trucks, ten to twenty at a time, taken to a wooded ravine, and executed. Only a handful escaped. In all, 263 men and boys were killed, the youngest aged sixteen. There was also one woman among the victims. Their bodies were dumped in a mass grave and covered by a bulldozer.
In Western capitals, it seemed beyond comprehension that wholesale slaughter was being committed once more in the heart of Europe. In the early nineties, it was a continent preoccupied with harmonizing food safety standards and the many other intricate chores of building a closer union. The dark past, two generations earlier, was buried under layer upon layer of democracy, diplomacy, and bureaucracy, or so it seemed from Brussels. The return of mass murder was deeply shocking. An entire town was pulverized, and its surviving Croats and minorities driven out with the goal of creating a swath of territory that would be home only to Serbs. The process was called “ethnic cleansing,” a turn of phrase beyond George Orwell’s darkest satire. Like all the most effective propaganda, it worked by inversion. It took an act that was inherently dirty and gore-spattered and made it sound like a salutary rite of purification. It was a “cleansing” that left a permanent stain on everyone and everything it touched. The “purified” mini-state was named the Republic of Serbian Krajina (Republika Srpska Krajina, or RSK), and Hadžić became its despot. He was thirty-three years old, a former warehouseman for an agro-industrial company in Vukovar who had been a leading light in the local League of Communists in his youth. He was picked for the role of the RSK’s warlord because he had made the same ideological swerve to nationalism as Milošević. He had plenty of ambition and no evident scruples. He was perfect.
Twenty years on, Hadžić was isolated and abandoned. His realm, the RSK, had been swept away, and Milošević had been dead for more than five years. In an effort to help him make ends meet, one of Hadžić’s childhood friends tried to sell a plundered artwork, but the intended favor only helped corner him. It was a painting attributed to the Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani, taken as booty during the Croatian war. The art market was awash with such looted treasure, real and fake, but it was also thick with informers and spies. The French external intelligence service, the General Directorate for External Security (Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, or DGSE), had a particularly strong presence. One of its officers was even given a special award for extended service undercover in the Balkan art world 1. The French alerted Serbian intelligence, who monitored Hadžić’s friend and set a trap. In the wooded hills of Fruška Gora National Park near the Serbian-Croatian border, he was cornered and captured like the last grizzled specimen of a once ferocious breed.
The masked policemen turned him toward a camera to capture the moment. Surprise had given way to realization and resentment on Hadžić’s hangdog face. By now he was fifty-two years old. The warrior’s beard was gone, leaving a graying mustache and sagging jowls. The only familiar features left from his glory days were the angry eyes and the sneer, which once looked at home with his camouflage fatigues but now jarred with the baby-blue T-shirt he had chosen for his meeting.
The pathetic scene at the end of the forest trail marked the culmination of a long and extraordinary history. Hadžić was the last fugitive to be caught in a fifteen-year manhunt, involving the pursuit, arrest, or surrender of all those indicted for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide by a special court created by the United Nations in The Hague, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
The ICTY, or the Hague Tribunal as it came to be popularly known, was established in 1993 as an experiment in international justice. It was the first time in the history of conflict that a truly global court had been created to pursue war criminals. It embodied the conviction that a universal sense of humanity could and should be upheld in the face of mass atrocities, transcending national jurisdiction.
The dramatic landmark trials at The Hague have been the subject of several books and countless articles. But those trials would never have taken place if the defendants had not been tracked down, arrested, and brought to court. That pursuit itself was a historic achievement. It took a very long time, but by 2011 all 161 people on the ICTY list of indictees faced justice one way or another. Former prison camp guards and ex-presidents all stood before the same tribunal. More than half the suspects were tracked down and captured. Others gave themselves up rather than lie awake every night wondering whether masked, armed men were about to storm into their bedroom. Two committed suicide. Others decided they would rather die in a blaze of gunfire and explosives than be taken alive. Two of them got their wish.
The individuals and agencies who pursued the suspects were many and various, but most did their work in the shadows, their successes never acknowledged. This account is based on interviews with more than two hundred of these people—former soldiers, intelligence officials, investigators, data analysts, diplomats, and officials from a dozen nations who were directly involved in the manhunt, most of them speaking about their actions for the first time. A majority agreed to talk only on the promise of anonymity, as the arrest operations are still classified in their home countries. Part of the narrative is also based on a trove of previously secret British government documents, declassified by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
Special forces from six countries took part in the hunt, the biggest special operations deployment anywhere in the world before 9/11. Polish commandos made history by becoming the first soldiers to carry out an arrest on behalf of the tribunal—to the surprise of many, including their own government. Britain’s Special Air Service (SAS), who carried out NATO’s first manhunting missions in Bosnia, brought techniques learned in Northern Ireland. The participation of a newly formed German special forces unit in an arrest operation, at the cost of some serious injuries, marked the first time that country’s soldiers had gone into action since 1945. And the skills acquired in the Balkan manhunt by America’s elite soldiers in Delta Force and SEAL Team Six would soon be applied to the looming war on terror and to another manhunt—for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida’s leaders.
An alphabet soup of Western spy agencies, including the CIA, NSA, Britain’s MI6 and GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters), and France’s DGSE, conducted a parallel manhunt in the shadows with varying degrees of success. Despite the millions spent, none proved as effective as a small, secretive tracking unit inside the Hague Tribunal, which hugely enhanced the clout of the once-derided court.
From time to time, this multinational array of soldiers, spies, and sleuths acted in concert, following a trail that led from the Balkans west to the Canary Islands and Buenos Aires, and east as far as St. Petersburg and the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Just as often, they tripped over one another in their pursuit of conflicting national and institutional interests. That helps explain why the manhunt took so long 2. The story of the manhunt’s success contains within it many stories of failure. To survivors and families of victims waiting for justice, it did not feel like a triumph at the time. It is only now, when it is all over, that it stands out. There has been nothing quite like it in history.
The ICTY did not just complete its mission, rare enough for a UN operation and all the more striking in view of the patchy and ambivalent support it received from the major powers. The relentless pursuit of the indictees also made legal history. It led to the arrest and trial of Milošević, the first sitting head of state ever to be charged with war crimes by an international court. At the time of writing, the two men who presided over the worst of the atrocities in Bosnia—Radovan Karadžić, the Bosnian Serbs’ political leader, and his military commander, Ratko Mladić—are on trial for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The trail of blood was followed, not just to the immediate perpetrators of the mass atrocities but all the way to the orchestrators, the master butchers themselves.
Along the way, the ICTY defined mass rape for the first time as a crime against humanity in international law, as a result of atrocities committed by Bosnian Serb forces in the town of Foča. It was a legal breakthrough that would have meant little without the actions of German and French special forces, who tracked down the rapists and brought them to The Hague.
Before the ICTY’s creation, there was no institutional framework for judging war crimes and crimes against humanity. There was an attempt to put Napoleon Bonaparte’s commanders on trial for treason in 1815, but the effort collapsed. More than a century later, the British government sought to prosecute Kaiser Wilhelm for war crimes but failed to persuade Holland, where the Kaiser had taken refuge, to hand him over 3.
After the Second World War, the question loomed once more of what to do with leaders, officials, and soldiers responsible for mass atrocities, and it was by no means inevitable they would be put on trial. Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt initially approved a plan for summary executions of top Nazis, lest their survival help rally their followers 4. The trials in the ruined city of Nuremberg were something of a lastminute decision.
Meanwhile, in Tokyo a parallel tribunal was established for Japanese war crimes suspects, but Emperor Hirohito and members of the imperial family were exempted. Neither Tokyo nor Nuremberg succeeded in drawing a line in human history, despite the hopeful mantra of “never again.” More than forty-five years later, mass murder returned to the modern, industrialized world.
Genocide and other mass atrocities challenge our idea of what it is to be human. The acts perpetrated against innocent victims are so grotesque and disturbing, we recoil from their contemplation. We prefer them to be either far away or long ago. When Yugoslavia began to fall apart, the rest of Europe started to distance itself, like neighbors of a dying household. Shutting their doors, they convinced themselves that if they looked the other way, they would never catch the disease. Western politicians diagnosed “ancient ethnic hatreds” let loose by the fall of Communism as the cause of the bloodshed 5. It was one of a litany of excuses for not getting involved, but it explained nothing.
The history of the ethnic communities that made up Yugoslavia had indeed been marked by sporadic bouts of violence but those eruptions had been interspersed by long periods of peaceful coexistence. The same could be said of most regions in Europe’s diverse and turbulent continent. Yugoslavia marched into hell because its leaders took it there. When Communist dogma lost its already tenuous hold on people’s minds with the fall of the Iron Curtain, the more ideologically flexible and unscrupulous of the fading Communist elite, led by Milošević, switched to nationalism. The leaders packaged it as a new emotional certainty in the face of the chaos and fear left by the collapse of the old order. The challenges of converting a totalitarian state into a democracy, or turning a command economy into a free market, were waved away with colorful flags, hazy nostalgia, and folk music. Political power at the breakup of Yugoslavia depended on the ability to weave myths, wield arms, and manipulate reality.
No one was better at this than Milošević, but he was not alone. His Croatian counterpart was another rebranded Communist, the former Partisan officer turned nationalist Franjo Tudjman. In Bosnia and Herzegovina (a), Alija Izetbegović, a paler and frailer version of the national strongman, unfurled his party’s green flag and offered his people a sense of Muslim identity. It was a defensive nationalism, however. Bosnia’s Muslims generally did not nurse irredentist ambitions, but they were afraid that the revival of backward-looking nationalism among their neighbors would once more mark them as prey. Izetbegović was playing a dangerous game, waving a green banner with little to defend it.
His neighbors Milošević and Tudjman did not make the same mistake. As Yugoslavia collapsed, they armed their foot soldiers. Milošević had access to a near-bottomless arsenal thanks to Serb domination of the Yugoslav National Army (Jugoslavenska Narodna Armija, or JNA), once one of the largest militaries in Europe. The Croats took a smaller share of the JNA arms stockpile and as war approached they smuggled in weaponry to narrow the gap.
Milošević and Tudjman drew up maps expressing their dreams for a Greater Serbia and a Greater Croatia, aspirations that left little if any room for Bosnia. Neither of these despots regarded the Muslims—known as Bosniaks (b)—as a distinct ethnic group, viewing them respectively as renegade Serbs or Croats who had converted to Islam.
The new nationalist maps were clear and simple, filled with solid blocks of color. The reality of Yugoslavia on the other hand was uncommonly messy. It was pockmarked and spattered by more than a thousand years of human interaction, mingling Croats and Serbs with Illyrians, Romans, Goths, Asiatic Huns, Iranian Alans, and Avars. The mix was stirred repeatedly by outside powers and rival empires—Roman, Frankish, Byzantine, Habsburg, and Ottoman—who scattered its constituent parts, occasionally adding new ingredients. Religion and ethnicity were intertwined throughout, creating both harmony and discord. The people of the western Balkans largely converted to Catholicism under the sway of the Franks and Habsburgs. Those in the east followed the Orthodox Christianity of Byzantium. Caught in between, many of the mountain people of central Bosnia converted to Islam after the Ottomans arrived from the east in the fifteenth century.
Mixing, migration, and intermarriage intensified during the two incarnations of Yugoslavia, as a monarchy in between the interwar period and as a Socialist federal republic after the Second World War. The mingling was made all the easier by the fact that the three biggest communities—Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims—shared a common language (c).
The result was a complicated country that looked nothing like the simple ethnic maps being circulated in the death throes of Yugoslavia. Making allowances for ethnic nuance would have robbed the nationalist message of its simplicity and power. Rather than change their maps, the nationalist leaders sought to force change on the flesh and blood of the region, creating ethnically pure territories, by terror when necessary. Whether they were nationalists or not, one community after another was confronted by the brutal violence unleashed by a deceptively simple question: Why should I be a minority in your country, when you could be a minority in mine? 6
Yugoslavia unraveled in a succession of increasingly ferocious wars. The first in Slovenia was little more than a prelude. After ten days of skirmishes with Slovene separatists in the early summer of 1991, the JNA withdrew. There were hardly any Serbs in the renegade republic, and Milošević let it go. He was conserving his strength for the next battle.
Croatia, which had a sizable Serb population (d), had declared independence on the same day as Slovenia. Milošević and Tudjman may have seen eye to eye on the division of Bosnia but they had very different maps of Croatia. Milošević wanted the Serb-inhabited area, the Krajina, for a Greater Serbia, while Tudjman’s map of Croatia was all one color. His independence constitution downgraded the new nation’s Serbs, about one in nine of the population, from a constituent people to one of many minorities. His rhetoric played into Milošević’s hands. Belgrade television had been stoking local Serb fears with reminders of what happened the last time Croatia had been officially independent. It had been a Nazi puppet state, run by the fascist Ustasha movement that committed genocide against Jews, Serbs, and Roma in Croatia and Bosnia. Memories of the death camps may have faded in Western Europe, but they were kept fresh in the Balkans by the propaganda of resurgent nationalism.
As soon as he was confident he had secured the Serb enclaves in Croatia, Milošević turned his attention to Bosnia. The techniques were the same. Proxies were armed, under the direction of Karadžić, a psychiatrist and poet from Sarajevo. In Bosnia, regular Yugoslav units simply swapped insignia and declared themselves to be the Bosnian Serb army, commanded by Mladić, a veteran JNA officer.
With Milošević’s support, Karadžić and Mladić would go on to oversee the ethnic cleansing of Serb territory, the siege of Sarajevo, and ultimately the massacre of Srebrenica. The embryonic Muslim-led army organized by Izetbegović was no match for Serb forces, and in 1993 it was forced to fight on two fronts when the Bosnian Croats, egged on by Tudjman, turned on their Bosniak neighbors. An estimated twenty thousand people died in the Croatian war. About a hundred thousand were killed in Bosnia. The much higher death toll in Bosnia reflects its greater ethnic diversity—more territory to be cleansed—and the relative defenselessness of the Bosniak population. More than 80 percent of the civilians killed were Bosniak 7. Overall across the region, two civilians were killed for every three soldiers who died in battle. The whole conflict was characterized by random brutality. Psychopaths were made masters of the life and death of their former neighbors. Their barbarity was invariably sanctified by the nationalist leaders as self-defense against an enemy depicted in grotesque terms, as either Nazi Ustasha, wild-eyed Islamic fundamentalists, or Serb Chetnik marauders (e).
The genocide of the Nazi era had set a precedent for mass killing that was never erased, only half buried under Tito’s slogan “Brotherhood and Unity.” Half a century later, the ghosts of Yugoslavia’s past arose and nationalism once more cut like a hacksaw through the human bonds that had held diverse communities together, unleashing murder. In the name of the nation, everything would be allowed.
The Serbs were by no means alone in committing mass atrocities. Croatia was also responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Serbs from its territory, as well as Muslims from the parts of Bosnia that Croatian nationalists coveted. The Muslim-led Bosnian army carried out serious crimes, running a small but appalling prison camp just southwest of Sarajevo, for example. The Kosovo Liberation Army carried out brutal reprisals against Serb civilians. Members of all these groups were brought before the ICTY for judgment. But Serbs were responsible for most of the mass atrocities and accordingly Serb names made up the majority of The Hague’s wanted list.
Faced with such an enormous moral challenge at a time of volcanic upheaval across the whole of Europe, Western leaders dithered. Neither they nor their armies were equipped doctrinally or intellectually to halt the Balkan atrocities in 1992. A newly united Europe failed its first great test. Its troops had rehearsed fighting as junior members of an alliance against a massed Warsaw Pact offensive on the German plains. They had not been trained to parachute into an ethnic conflict.
Meanwhile, the American military was still recovering from the trauma of Vietnam. Colin Powell, who was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when Yugoslavia collapsed, had gone to fight in Indochina as a young officer and then spent much of his military career trying to ensure his country did not repeat the mistake. His eponymous doctrine stipulated that the United States should only go to war if it could deploy overwhelming force for clearly defined national interests with broad public support. Bosnia ticked between one and zero of those boxes.
On the campaign trail in 1992, Bill Clinton had promised to use American military might to stop the mass killing in Bosnia 8, but once he was in office that promise was quickly forgotten. The young president, who had avoided serving in Vietnam, did not have the confidence to take on the military.
Unwilling to intervene to stop the slaughter, the UN Security Council took two initiatives to try to mitigate it. It sent in peacekeepers to safeguard deliveries of humanitarian aid, and it established the ICTY to prosecute war crimes in the hope of deterring further atrocities. Blue-helmeted UN troops were sent into the thick of the war, but they arrived shackled with restrictive rules of engagement that allowed them to open fire only to defend themselves, not to protect the civilian victims falling like mown grass around them. By escorting aid convoys, the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) could stop Bosnians from starving, but not from being shot or blown apart. They became passive witnesses to genocide. At times their compliance with Serb intimidation went to the very edges of complicity.
So when the UN Security Council gathered in February 1993 to vote the Hague Tribunal into life,a the global powers already owed a huge debt to the victims of Yugoslavia, and the rhetoric of the occasion made weighty promises of what the new court would achieve. “There is an echo in this Chamber today,” declared Madeleine Albright, the American envoy to the UN and a former refugee from genocide herself. “The Nuremberg Principles have been reaffirmed … this will be no victors’ tribunal. The only victor that will prevail in this endeavor is the truth.”9
In reality, the court came into being as an exercise in penance and distraction, the unstable product of high ideals and low politics. For the world powers at the UN Security Council it was a gesture toward justice in lieu of military intervention. The mass atrocities would not be prevented, but they would be judged after the victims were dead. This is how the ICTY was born: as a substitute. It represented the promise of justice tomorrow in place of salvation today for the people of Yugoslavia. Most of the nations who brought this new judicial creature into being had no expectation that it would ever function properly. It was initially so short of money it could not afford to lease a court building, and it took eighteen months to find a chief prosecutor. No one of the right caliber wanted to do the job. The judges found themselves presiding over an empty theater of justice, without prosecutors or anyone to prosecute. Antonio Cassese, an Italian professor of international law appointed as the tribunal’s first president, complained: “The Security Council thought we would never become operational. We had no budget. We had nothing. Zero.”10 Cassese’s judges were paid on an ad hoc basis. The UN granted them just enough money for a handful of computers and two weeks’ rent on a suite of offices in The Hague’s Peace Palace. Looking for more space, Cassese heard that the insurance company Aegon was only using part of its faded Art Deco building on Churchillplein. He decided to rent it, but squeezing money out of the UN was so hard that the tribunal was unable to put down a deposit on a long-term lease before the summer of 1994. Prosecutors and investigators shared a cafeteria with Aegon’s actuaries and account managers, which meant they could never discuss cases at lunch, for security reasons. And they only had enough room for a single court, a converted conference room. But what good was a court anyway, without defendants? Just at the point when the judges were considering mutiny or resignation, Nelson Mandela kept the tribunal alive by helping to persuade Richard Goldstone, a South African lawyer and veteran anti-apartheid campaigner, to take the chief prosecutor’s job in July 1994 11. In the eighteen months it had taken to find someone suitable, thousands of people had died in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And the tribunal was still far from functional. There was no one willing to carry out arrests. Goldstone’s staff scrambled to piece together a string of indictments wherever there was evidence to do so, but the overwhelming majority of the seventy-four indictments issued in the Goldstone era concerned small fry—camp guards who had tortured their former neighbors and who could be readily identified by survivors. The urgency to demonstrate the tribunal was operational left no time to build more sophisticated cases against the master butchers. The court’s first defendant was a perfect example of this “low-hanging fruit” syndrome. Duško Tadić had been a particularly sadistic guard at two notorious Bosnian Serb prison camps, Omarska and Keraterm. He fled to Germany after the war but was spotted in a benefits office in Munich by camp survivors, who called the local police. In November 1994, Tadić arrived in The Hague to become the world’s first war crimes defendant for two generations. Yet for all the tribunal’s attempts to play up the echoes of Nuremberg, it was clear this brutal turnkey was no Hermann Göring or Joseph Goebbels. Most of the other names on Goldstone’s indictment list were similarly inconsequential. Their pictures were printed on posters distributed among UNPROFOR battalions, who tacked them up on their barracks notice boards and ignored them. The international community was finally shocked out of its indecision and half measures by the worst single massacre of the Bosnian war, the murder of more than eight thousand men and boys by Serb forces after the fall of the Muslim enclave at Srebrenica in July 1995. A handful survived the mass executions, acting dead and climbing out of mass graves over the bodies of their friends and relatives. It was impossible for the world to ignore their testimony, but the most chilling account of all was to come from one of the killers. Dražen Erdemović was a Bosnian Croat locksmith married to a Serb. In a country that was falling apart, with its people forced to choose sides according to ethnicity, Erdemović belonged nowhere. At different points in the swirling conflict he had served in the Croat, Bosnian, and Serb armies, trying to survive in noncombat jobs. But in July 1995, when he was twenty-three, he was dragooned into a Serb execution squad at Srebrenica, where he witnessed things he would never be able to forget. The awful scenes were lodged deep in his brain. Eight months later, Erdemović started looking for someone to confess to. He called the US embassy in Belgrade but was turned away, so he went to the press 12. The police, who tapped journalists’ phones as a matter of course, picked him up but it was too late. His story was all over the world, and the Milošević regime had little choice but to hand him over to The Hague 13. Erdemović became the first person since Nuremberg to be sentenced by an international tribunal for crimes against humanity. But he will be remembered mostly for the excruciating testimony he gave on the events of July 16, 1995, when 1,200 men and boys were killed at a single site. They would bring out groups of ten people out of the bus and, of course, they were looking into the ground. Their heads were bent downwards and their hands were tied and they were blindfolded … They took them to the meadow. So we started shooting at those people. I do not know exactly. To be honest,… I simply felt sick 14. NATO intervention and a Croatian ground offensive forced a peace treaty, signed in November 1995 by Milošević, Tudjman, and Izetbegović at an air force base in Dayton, Ohio. But Milošević was not quite done with war. In a brutish epilogue to his decade of misrule, he sent troops into Kosovo in 1998 to crush a fledgling insurgency by the province’s Albanians. Like his earlier adventures, it left a mountain of corpses—more than ten thousand dead—and backfired totally. NATO intervened again in March 1999 with a bombing campaign that forced Milošević to withdraw his troops three months later. Kosovo declared independence in 2008. Once more, Western intervention only came after the dead were already in their graves 15. Justice arrived even later. The Dayton Accords did indeed stop the killing in Bosnia, but the divisions created by ethnic cleansing were frozen in place. The persistent influence of Karadžić, Mladić, and Milošević meanwhile threatened to render Dayton meaningless and make the Hague Tribunal a colossal farce. Yet by 2011, the ICTY manhunters had crossed off all the names on their indicted list. As this book goes to press, the last trials are under way. Karadžić and Mladić are in the dock facing the very people they tried to obliterate. Witness testimony is streamed live online. Millions of documents have been analyzed and saved. Transcripts are posted online. The buried crimes of the past are dug up and laid in the open for all those who can bring themselves to look. It was a more substantial endeavor than the hunt for Nazis after World War II. The US-led investigators at Nuremberg had the advantage that most of their suspects had already been captured or had surrendered. The prosecutors mostly chose defendants according to the prisoners of war they already had in their cells, rather than according to the scale of their crimes. Only one prominent Nazi was tried in absentia because he could not be found—Hitler’s private secretary, Martin Bormann, whose remains were identified in 1998 16. The real precursor to the ICTY manhunt was the US Department of Justice’s Office of Special Investigations, established in 1979. Over the next quarter century, OSI “Nazi hunters” tracked down and prosecuted more than a hundred war criminals who had tried to hide in the United States 17. Whereas the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals never escaped the taint of “victors’ justice,” the ICTY represented the first genuine attempt at an international reckoning for war crimes on all sides in a conflict. The judges and prosecutors were drawn from around the world, and the defendants came from four fledgling nations—Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo.18 The effort to bring them to justice was long, uneven, and mired with mistakes, but it ultimately emerged as the most successful manhunt in history and an extraordinary testament to the tenacity of a remarkably small group of people. This book tells their story.
Notes a. This is the full name of the Socialist Republic and then the independent nation, which will mostly be referred to simply as Bosnia for the rest of the book, for the sake of brevity. b. Bosnian Muslims formally adopted the term “Bosniaks” to describe themselves in 1993. c. Known in Yugoslav days as Serbo-Croat, it now known as Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian (BCS). Apart from a handful of differences in vocabulary, the only major distinction is that the Serbs use the Cyrillic alphabet. d. About 11 percent of Croatia identified as Serb. e. Chetniks were Serb bands who harried the Turks during the Ottoman era and during the Second World War were revived as a royalist resistance movement that fought first against then for the Nazi-backed regimes in Zagreb and Belgrade.
1. Former DGSE agent Pierre Martinet said that one of his colleagues earned an award for undercover service in the Balkan art world. The possession of high-quality art in the hands of thugs like Hadžić and his circle is not as far-fetched as it might appear on the surface. Art theft was a lucrative sideline of ethnic cleansing. A senior Serbian official told me that in some cases, when looted artifacts fell into the hands of Yugoslav intelligence officials who realized what they were worth, they set out to track down the owners, not to return their property but to kill them, eliminating a potential obstacle to selling the work on the global art market. See Pierre Martinet, DGSE Service action: Un Agent sort de l’ombre (Paris: Editions Privé, 2005). 2. It was literally a manhunt. There was just one woman on the list of indictees, Biljana Plavšić, and she turned herself in. 3. For a comprehensive history of the long quest for international justice, see Gary Jonathan Bass, Stay the Hand of Vengeance: The Politics of War Crimes Tribunals (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000). 4. Ibid., 12. 5. Britain’s prime minister at the time, John Major, bizarrely blamed the Bosnian war on “the collapse of the Soviet Union and of the discipline that that exerted over the ancient hatreds in the old Yugoslavia.” As Noel Malcolm pointed out in his book Bosnia: A Short History (London: Macmillan, 1994): “The ‘discipline’ exerted by the Soviet Union on Yugoslavia came to an abrupt and well-publicized end in 1948, when Stalin expelled Tito from the Soviet-run Cominform organization.” 6. A question attributed to Kiro Gligorov, Macedonia’s first president after independence. 7. The figures given in this paragraph are according to Mirsad Tokaca, The Bosnian Book of the Dead (Sarajevo: Research and Documentation Centre and Humanitarian Law Center of Serbia, 2013). 8. David Rieff, Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 27. 9. Julia Preston, “UN Security Council establishes Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal,” Washington Post (February 23, 1993). 10. Bass, Stay the Hand of Vengeance, 215. 11. Ibid., 220. 12. Louise Branson, “Serbian Killer Turned Away by US Embassy,” The Sunday Times (March 17, 1996). 13. In return for his testimony Erdemović wanted to move his family to the West and be given immunity from prosecution. The tribunal was unwilling to guarantee the latter. On March 2, 1996, perhaps in the hope of forcing events, he and another soldier arranged to meet a correspondent for the French newspaper Le Figaro. They sat down to talk in a small country hotel near the Hungarian border. Erdemović was just twenty-five with a face still pockmarked by acne. He had been drafted into the black-uniformed Tenth Sabotage Detachment, which performed some of the gory labor in executing the eight thousand Muslim men and boys captured at Srebrenica. The Serbian security services stopped the journalist at the airport and confiscated the tapes of her interview with Erdemović. He was arrested half an hour later but prosecutors intervened quickly to ensure he was given up to the Hague Tribunal. Erdemović was flown to The Hague but was not granted immunity. 14. Ultimately, the judges reduced his sentence to five years because they accepted his argument that he had taken part in the executions on threat of death. His commander told him, “If you do not wish to do it, stand in the line with the rest of them and give others your rifle so that they can shoot you.” ICTY transcript, Erdemović trial, November 19, 1996. 15. On July 15, 2014, a civil court in The Hague held the Netherlands accountable for the deaths of the men and boys the Dutch UN battalion handed over to the Bosnian Serbs at Srebrenica. “Dutch State Liable for 300 Srebrenica Massacre Deaths,” Associated Press (July 16, 2014). 16. Skeptics still doubt the official story that Bormann committed suicide after a failed attempt to flee Berlin in 1945. The Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal always believed that Bormann and his entourage managed to escape to South America. 17. A 2008 internal Department of Justice history of the OSI, “Striving for Accountability in the Aftermath of the Holocaust,” was obtained by the National Security Archive at George Washington University. 18. The ICTY also looked into possible violations by NATO in its 1999 bombing campaign against Serbia, which was aimed at forcing Belgrade to withdraw its troops from Kosovo, but prosecutors decided there was insufficient evidence that civilian casualties were intentional.
This is the second excerpt (Chapter 13, “The Legacy”, 27 pages) from Julian Borges’ acclaimed book The Butcher’s Trail : how the search for Balkan war criminals became the world’s most successful manhunt. New York : Other Press, 2016. xxx, 400 pages : illustrations, maps. It follows my own analysis and the author’s Introduction to his work. I encourage BlogGuinée’s visitors to purchase and read this work. It is a well-written account of a key episode in the permanent and worldwide struggle against dictatorship, human rights violations, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Tierno S. Bah
Chapter 13 The Legacy
After these verdicts, it’s very difficult to speak about justice in the region. —Nataša Kandić, Serbian human rights activist
There were 161 names on the list of indicted war crimes suspects drawn up by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Ten died before they ever got to The Hague. Another twenty had their indictments withdrawn. Of the remainder, sixty-five fugitives were tracked down and arrested. According to the official records, the rest handed themselves in. But the real number taken to the Dutch capital against their will was much higher. Many arrests were dressed up as “voluntary surrenders” so the indictees could salvage some dignity and receive cash benefits offered by their governments for coming out of hiding. Almost no one would have submitted to justice willingly if the likely alternative had not been apprehension. Without the Balkan manhunt, the cells in Scheveningen prison would still be empty and the Hague Tribunal would have been no more than a hollow gesture in the general direction of international justice.
There were 161 names on the list of indicted war crimes suspects drawn up by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Ten died before they ever got to The Hague. Another twenty had their indictments withdrawn. Of the remainder, sixty-five fugitives were tracked down and arrested. According to the official records, the rest handed themselves in. But the real number taken to the Dutch capital against their will was much higher. Many arrests were dressed up as “voluntary surrenders” so the indictees could salvage some dignity and receive cash benefits offered by their governments for coming out of hiding. Almost no one would have submitted to justice willingly if the likely alternative had not been apprehension. Without the Balkan manhunt, the cells in Scheveningen prison would still be empty and the Hague Tribunal would have been no more than a hollow gesture in the general direction of international justice.
The three men most responsible for unleashing carnage on the people of the former Yugoslavia, the three master butchers, Slobodan Milošević, Radovan Karadžić, and Ratko Mladić, were brought one by one to stand before the Hague Tribunal. But the triumvirate was never reunited there. Milošević—Yugoslavia’s kamikaze pilot who brought his country and its people down in flames—ultimately cheated final legal judgment. In March 2006, four years into his turgidly long trial, he died in his cell of a heart attack, well before Karadžić or Mladić were even caught.
The two Bosnian Serb leaders, both indicted for genocide, did meet again in the tribunal’s Courtroom Number One in a moment of farce in January 2014. Like the revival of an old double act after twenty years in the wilderness, the two pensioners dressed in their Sunday best and struggled to recover their swagger. Karadžić had called Mladić to the stand to testify for him, but proceedings had to be suspended because the old general had left his dentures in his cell. Even with his teeth in, he refused to answer the questions put to him, insisting on reading a prepared statement instead. When the judges refused to admit the seven-page soliloquy as evidence, Mladić snarled at the bench: “Thanks for preventing me from stating what I wanted to say. You have confirmed to me that the Hague Tribunal is not a court of law but a Satanic court.”
At the height of their power, Karadžić and Mladić could never have been described as friends, but they had complemented each other. Mladić had done the dirty, bloody work that was necessary to make Karadžić’s vision of an ethnically pure Serb republic a reality. Karadžić’s bloviation and clunky poetry provided the gossamer veil of romanticism and deniability for Mladić’s slaughter.
In the glare of global scrutiny in the Hague courtroom, the two men found common cause. Karadžić addressed Mladić respectfully as “General, sir,” and on his way out of the court, Mladić could be heard to tell Karadžić, “Thanks a lot, Radovan. I’m sorry these idiots wouldn’t let me speak. They defend NATO bombs.” 1 In the course of their trials, the two men sought to keep alive the cult of exclusive victimhood they had used first to rationalize, then to obscure the mass killings for which they stood accused. Their strategy was to play the martyr and fill the court with noise, in the hope that the tens of thousands killed at their behest were kept silent, without a compelling voice in the courtroom.
The trials have ground on at a glacial pace in the tribunal’s bid to be comprehensive and fair beyond reproach. The lawyers in court, their billing meters ticking, have little interest in stepping up the tempo. The court has made many of them rich. And meanwhile the defendants bide their time inside the walls of the old Dutch prison in The Hague’s beach suburb of Scheveningen, where the Nazis once locked up members of the Dutch resistance. In 2005, a new state-of-the-art facility was built inside the complex to house prisoners from the ICTY and indictees of the International Criminal Court, all of them so far African. The prison wardens at Scheveningen witness a daily phenomenon that many of citizens of the former Yugoslavia could have predicted. The warlords, militiamen, and ultranationalists from all sides, who were once ready to kill in the name of ethnic distinctions, have found they get along famously when locked up together. They play in mixed football teams, cook each other meals, and even swap clothes. In this Dutch prison, a thousand miles from the Balkans, Tito’s dream of Brotherhood and Unity has achieved a strange afterlife, providing an esprit de corps among war crimes defendants from Yugoslavia’s constituent nations.
Wry post-Yugoslav jokes often imagined a scene in heaven or hell where the three main nationalist leaders—Serbia’s Slobodan Milošević, Croatia’s strongman Franjo Tudjman, and the Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegović—meet, chat, and spar. In the tastefully designed Dutch purgatory at Scheveningen, only Milošević turned up to act out the joke for real. The other two nationalist presidents died while under investigation by the ICTY: Tudjman for ethnic cleansing in central Bosnia and the killing of Serb civilians in Croatia’s Krajina region, and Izetbegović for importing Arab mujahideen, who fought and allegedly committed war crimes outside the Bosnian army’s chain of command 2. In the absence of other erstwhile heads of state, Milošević played the role of the boss of bosses, requiring people to address him as Mr. President, remaining largely aloof from the crowd. He never joined in the football games, just the occasional bit of volleyball, in which he participated in the same condescending manner as an elder statesman on the campaign trail. “He always acted like he was the boss, with his chin held up in the air,” recalled Naser Orić, a Bosnian army officer. “Someone was bringing him in brandy and whisky in milk or juice cartons. He always smelled of alcohol.”3 Orić was tried, and eventually acquitted on appeal, for alleged war crimes committed in raids mounted from the Srebrenica enclave. I met him in February 2014 in the café of a Sarajevo gas station. He came in a black leather bomber jacket, and chewed on a Cuban cigar as he told me about the security precautions he had to take to avoid abduction by Serbian intelligence. He also explained how his earlier career was intertwined with Milošević in a manner that embodied the complexities of Yugoslavia’s collapse. By a twist of Balkan fate, Orić had once served in Milošević’s security detail. He stood guard in June 1989 when the then Serbian president unleashed the forces of nationalism with his speech marking the six-hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo. As the young Yugoslav policeman stared out at the crowd he could see bands of Serb Chetniks dressed in the same fur hats and death’s-head badges their forefathers had worn when they slaughtered Bosnian Muslims like him in the Second World War. Orić grew even more uneasy in the run-up to the war in 1991 when he was ordered to take part in the smuggling of arms from Belgrade to Serb separatists in Croatia. “We were told that if any civilians saw the guns we had to kill them. Not even a chicken can see the weapons. That was another sign of what was going to happen,” Orić recalled. He fled his police post soon after, moving to Bosnia with warnings of the approaching catastrophe that few of his fellow Bosniaks could bring themselves to believe. Orić was finally reunited with Milošević in Scheveningen, where he witnessed the last days of the leader who had unchained Yugoslavia’s demons. He believes Milošević’s death was the suicidal act of a lonely and broken man. “Milošević was always longing for his wife, Mira. When she went to Moscow, he starting trying to get sent there for treatment for his heart condition. He was taking blood pressure pills and other pills to counter the effect of the blood pressure pills. When he was refused permission to go to Moscow and see Mira, he just stopped taking his pills.” 4 When Karadžić arrived in Scheveningen in July 2008, he also sought a leadership role in the cell block, albeit in a more garrulous, convivial manner than Milošević, playing the gracious host at visiting times, assiduously remembering the names of fellow inmates’ wives and children. He continued to pursue his obsession with maps, putting up a large city plan of Sarajevo on the wall of his cell, on which he stuck pins marking alleged locations of Bosnian army positions. His defense was that the Bosnian military was using the city as one huge human shield. Mladić is on a different floor of the facility and hardly sees Karadžić. By all accounts, he cuts a more reclusive and curmudgeonly figure, spending long spells alone in his cell. The rest of Schveningen’s Balkan population has sorted itself into groups according to shared interests rather than ethnicity. For a while, a five-a-side football club developed around the more athletic of the professional soldiers, including Orić, as well as the Croatian general Ante Gotovina, the Montenegrin colonel Veselin Šljivančanin, and Ramush Haradinaj, a former prime minister of Kosovo and commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army. “We mostly played in mixed teams, but on at least one occasion there was a Serbs versus Croats game. Gotovina was marking me, but I have to say, he was very correct,” said Šljivančanin, who was jailed for ten years for his role in the executions of more than 260 Croat prisoners near Vukovar 5. When he was released in July 2011, Šljivančanin sought out Gotovina to say goodbye and the two officers embraced. The Montenegrin also got on well with Orić. “He loved sport. He was very proud and very correct. We had no conflict. He just wanted to do sport,” Šljivančanin recalled of Gotovina. Orić agreed there was a group of inmates who coalesced around a type of military-sporting code. “Gotovina and I always got along, and Šljivančanin and I were on the same team. He played on the right wing. I was on the left wing.” “All the people there were always very pleasant and they always wanted to help. We looked out for each other. If someone looked from outside at us they would say: These people are friends. Why did they go to war?” said Momčilo Krajišnik 6, Karadžić’s closest associate and one of the architects of Bosnia’s ethnic cleansing. “We had very close relationships. We had friendly relations. Our common problem brought us close together. I had better conversations with some Muslims and Croats than with some Serbs simply because these men were more compatible with me. If you go to trial and you don’t have a suit, someone lends you a suit. If someone makes a nice meal, you wouldn’t say I will give it just to Serbs, you would give it to Croats and Muslims. We all ate together. When we talked we discussed different things, business, sports, and so on. It was civilized.” The one exception to the prison bonhomie was Vojislav Šešelj, the leader of the Serbian Radical Party, who had recruited the ultra-nationalist paramilitary groups responsible for atrocities in Croatia and Bosnia. He was at least consistent in his snarling irascibility, showing no signs of mellowing once he was in custody. He swore constantly at the guards. He took no part in team sports and refused to be in the gym at the same time as Orić. He tormented Šljivančanin for having once been Tito’s bodyguard, “Tito’s piglet” Šešelj called him. Orić told the story of a chess match between Šešelj and Mladen “Tuta” Naletilić, a Bosnian Croat crime boss who commanded a “convicts’ battalion” in the war and was sentenced to twenty years in prison for torture and forced labor. Šešelj was perpetually angry anyway, but the white-haired bewhiskered Croat wound him up further.
“Tuta was saying to Šešelj, ‘Your great-grandfather was a Croat, but was caught stealing an egg and was excommunicated.’ Šešelj got furious and ranted at Tuta, but whenever he lost his focus, Tuta would steal one of his pieces,” Orić said. It could be a scene from any village square in the Balkans. Two aging men squabbling over a chessboard. But Schveningen is a far more comfortable place to grow old than the war-ruined countries they left behind. It is half prison, half spa. It has yoga classes, top-flight medical care, language-study rooms, a library, classes on pottery and painting, musical instruments, personal trainers, public sculpture and murals in the courtyard. There is an extensive cafeteria, but the prisoners are allowed to order in groceries and do their own cooking, using a €15 weekly stipend. Families can spend seven consecutive days per month with the detainee, and even girlfriends are allowed conjugal visits. According to the prison authorities, quite a number of babies have been conceived at Scheveningen 7. Haradinaj told an acquaintance: “In Pristina, you could stick three stars on this place and charge money.” “I honestly expected it was going to be like Guantánamo,” Orić said. “But if our children had been looking for a retirement home for us, they couldn’t have done better. No retirement home has such conditions.” The dissonance is jarring. Punishment for some of the worst crimes humanity has witnessed is being handled by the Dutch penal system, one of the most liberal on the planet. While most of the inmates tend to mellow in such conditions, few have shown genuine remorse. Krajišnik, who played a pivotal role in organizing the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia from his comfortable perch in Pale, now claims to be a humanist at heart. “I never made distinctions between people on the basis of their ethnicity and religion. I have always believed that God made all men so I hate none,” he said 8. Krajišnik is now back in Pale after having served two-thirds of his twenty-year sentence, most of it in British jails. He runs various businesses from a suite of offices above a gas station on the road into town from Sarajevo. Pale itself is as picturesque as ever: serene, alpine, small. At the time Karadžić and Mladić strutted through its streets, it was Bosnia’s Berchtesgaden, a tranquil hideaway from which to plan the ethnic purification of nations. Krajišnik says he found Zen-like equanimity while in prison, but he does not acknowledge having personally committed any wrong over the course of the Bosnian war. All the bad things were done by other people, whom he will not name. “I don’t know what happened during the war. It was clear that it takes just a few of those pathological murderers to set a whole city on fire.” One man in prison, he recalled, would wake up in the middle of the night sweating, convinced he could see the faces of all his victims at the window in the dark. Not Krajišnik. He sleeps peacefully. It is probably too much to ask of justice that it drives the guilty to remorse. A spartan prison regime of bread and water and bucket toilets probably would not have made any of the perpetrators any sorrier but rather just fed the cult of victimhood that is the lifeblood of the nationalist cause. Most of the surviving victims and families of the dead are appalled at the cushy conditions at Scheveningen, but the imbalance between the horror visited on them and the redress offered by any system of justice is unbridgeable anyway. For such crimes there will never be any such thing as closure and it was ever thus. In 1946, after the forty-seven minutes it took to sentence the convicts at Nuremberg, the American journalist Martha Gellhorn observed: “Justice seemed very small suddenly. Of course it had to be, for there was no punishment great enough for such guilt.” 9 The same was true more than sixty years later in the Balkans. A better measure of value of the Hague arrests is to contemplate the awfulness of the alternative, if the perpetrators had been left to walk free, an outcome that would have assigned no value at all to the tens of thousands of lives they took away. The states that emerged from Yugoslavia are finding it hard enough to escape its debris. The task would be immeasurably harder if the demagogues and their regiment of butchers had been left at liberty after the war. This was probably the greatest contribution of the manhunt. It extracted the likes of Milošević, Karadžić, and Mladić from the Balkan arena and in so doing removed a powerful force for conflict and instability. The assumption of the NATO generals after the Dayton Accords that peace and justice were alternatives, that the arrest of war criminals would bring an instant return to fighting, was proved wrong. What is striking about the post-Dayton period in Bosnia is an almost total absence of reprisals. Given the gory horrors of the conflict in which the killers were often neighbors well known to the victims’ families, that lack of vengeance is an astounding phenomenon. It is explained, at least in part, by the faith Bosnians put in the Hague Tribunal’s capacity to dispense justice. The fact that the killing came to a halt so abruptly, as if a switch had been flicked, also demonstrates the decisive role of political leadership in creating the conditions for the mass murders of the 1990s. The nationalist leaders who assumed power at the breakup of Yugoslavia were not struggling to contain the murderous impulses of their people. On the contrary, they created circumstances for psychopaths and sadists to kill with impunity. Once the leadership was removed and that permissive climate came to an end, the blood stopped flowing. So the manhunt for the architects of ethnic cleansing and their transfer to The Hague was not a trigger for renewed conflict. Quite the reverse. It was vital to prevent a return to bloodshed. The lesson taught by the pursuit of the Yugoslav war criminals is that there can be no sustainable peace without some measure of justice. The effort to deliver justice was sprawling and complex. It brought together prosecutors from across the globe, led in turn by South African, Canadian, Swiss, and Belgian prosecutors. It was spearheaded by a maverick American diplomat, a handful of Polish commandos, Britain’s SAS, and later the special forces of the Netherlands, the United States, Germany, and France. For a few years at least, the manhunt was the top priority of the CIA, MI6, and the DGSE. Finally it was the work of officials, human rights activists, and journalists in the region who defied the omertà and denial enforced by nationalist propaganda. Only on occasion was this a concerted international effort. For the most part, the manhunt was driven forward fitfully by the domino effect of separate actions. The perseverance of the ICTY prosecutors ultimately bore fruit with the arrival of sympathetic officials like Madeleine Albright, Wesley Clark, Jacques Klein, and Robin Cook. Their decision to enforce the tribunal’s indictments ultimately shamed others into following suit. They created a new norm. Fear of capture by armed commandos provoked voluntary surrenders. Once the cells in Scheveningen were being filled and the ICTY’s credibility was beyond doubt, it became easier for prosecutors to demand that Western aid and European Union membership be made conditional on states handing over the wanted men. That in turn emboldened pro-Western and democratic politicians in Serbia and Croatia to make a stand against the nationalist orthodoxy of denial. The ultimate success of the Hague manhunt was not the outcome of some grand master plan. Nor were its many failures along the way. The eighteen lost months between the Dayton Accords and the first arrests by the international community were not signs of conspiracy but of timidity. NATO governments and their generals judged the peace in the region to be far more fragile than it was in reality. The people of the former Yugoslavia were weary of war and contemptuous of their leaders’ venality. Once Western policy-makers realized that there would be no backlash, and it was clear there would not be reprisals against their soldiers for carrying out detentions, they poured substantial resources into the hunt. France was an exception. The French military dragged its feet throughout the process. It was the last of the five powers in Operation Amber Star to carry out arrests and was more of a hindrance than a help in tracking down Karadžić. To some extent, this reticence was a product of bitter experience. More French soldiers had been killed during the Bosnian war than peacekeepers from any other nation. Army commanders were not in a hurry to sacrifice more of their troops for an enterprise they believed would jeopardize the peace. But sentimentality about France’s historical ties with Serbia led some French officers to turn a blind eye to the atrocities committed in Serbia’s name. As to a secret deal with Karadžić, it may not be hard to imagine President Jacques Chirac purring assurances of immunity to the Bosnian Serb leader, particularly at a time French servicemen were being held hostage. But Karadžić never produced documentary proof to back such claims. Nor is there any concrete evidence for Bosnian Serb claims of similar guarantees from the US diplomat Richard Holbrooke. America’s hesitancy to commit to the manhunt was a consequence of the Pentagon’s risk-averse culture after the Black Hawk Down disaster in Somalia. But that complex was eventually shrugged off. By the end of the Clinton administration, the pursuit of Karadžić in Bosnia represented the biggest mission deployment of US special forces anywhere in the world. Its failure reflected the fact, to be demonstrated later in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, that finding fugitives in their natural habitat is diabolically hard and strength in numbers is not necessarily an advantage to the pursuers. On the contrary, it can make it easier for the quarry to see them coming. That is why the ICTY’s own tracking team, for all its faults, proved a better value on an arrest-per-dollar basis than the far more formidable spy agencies deployed by the Western powers. By saving the ICTY from oblivion, the manhunt changed legal history. Throughout the twentieth century, idealists had talked about a permanent international court that would hold accountable those responsible for the worst crimes, including political leaders and heads of state. There was a burst of enthusiasm for such a court in the immediate aftermath of the Nuremberg trials, but it subsided as the Cold War set in and such universalist idealism faded. The end of the Cold War, however, set in motion a new drive to create institutions dispensing international justice. The examples set by the ICTY and its ad hoc African twin, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, showed such institutions could work and offered at least the hope of deterring future atrocities. The creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002, not far from the ICTY’s headquarters in The Hague, marked a historic and significant transfer of legal authority from sovereign states to an international institution. More than 120 states now give the ICC the power to initiate proceedings against high functionaries suspected of serious crimes, including genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and aggression 10.
As was the case with the ICTY at its inception, few initially gave the ICC much chance of survival. It was designed to operate independently of the great powers in the UN Security Council. Its judges and prosecutor are elected on a one state, one vote principle. Without a dominant say, the major powers have distrusted the new court, fearing it might one day turn its attention to them. They have tried to suffocate it in the cradle. Clinton belatedly decided to sign the Rome Statute establishing the ICC on New Year’s Eve 2000, one of the last days of his presidency. His successor, George W. Bush, spent his first months in office seeking to reverse that decision and “unsign” the document. The bare-knuckle, legally dubious methods the United States and its allies employed in their post-9/11 war on terror only deepened the reluctance to risk scrutiny by a foreign court. The Bush administration could not stop the ICC from coming into being, however. A rush of ten ratifications of the Rome Statute in April 2002 brought it over the threshold of the sixty member states necessary to bring it to life. It was formally born on July 1, 2002. Nations joined up faster than anyone had expected, in part because the court came to be seen as a counterweight to the Bush administration’s unilateralist leanings. Unlike most international institutions, it was the creation of mostly small and midsize nations* rather than the permanent five Security Council members.
n the long term, however, it is hard to run an international institution without Security Council support. The lack of US endorsement, along with India’s and China’s refusal to join, have hobbled the workings of the ICC, which depends on state contributions to function. It does not have an agency like the tracking team that is empowered and willing to carry out international arrests,11 and it can investigate war crimes against the wishes of the government involved only if it is armed with a referral from the UN Security Council. In practice that means that all eight ICC indictments up to 2014 have been against Africans. Washington, Moscow, and the other competing powers have less at stake in Africa, so have less reason to veto investigations. But the focus on African crimes has inevitably drawn accusations of racism and threats of a boycott from the African Union. In the face of the slaughter in Syria and Iraq, the ICC has been powerless. With a return to sharp-edged great-power rivalry following the post–Cold War lull, there is a real danger of the ICC stalling. To this day, the ICTY is still the high-water mark of international justice for crimes against humanity. That is not surprising. The conditions that permitted the pursuit and capture of the Hague indictees were unique. The crime scene was in Europe and was patrolled in the immediate postwar period by a substantial NATO force, which eventually agreed to act as the ICTY’s arresting officer. Furthermore, the governments of the region sorely wanted something that Europe had to offer, EU membership, giving Western capitals the sort of leverage that is hard to reproduce elsewhere. The ICTY’s great achievement, pushing back the culture of impunity for mass atrocities, was born of a particular set of circumstances. Now, in the absence of those circumstances, its legacy is in danger of unraveling. It was always going to be a fragile legacy, vulnerable to erosion. The justice on offer in The Hague was destined to be incomplete. More than 130,000 people were killed in the course of Yugoslavia’s disintegration, most of them civilian victims of war crimes. Across large swaths of Bosnia and Kosovo, there were atrocities in almost every town. In the face of murder on this scale, the Hague indictment list of 161 suspects was illustrative rather than comprehensive. Originally intended to net the worst offenders and architects of ethnic cleansing, the Hague list ended up a mixed bag, involving plenty of small-fry prison guards and soldiers simply because they were easy to indict when the court was fighting for survival. Even after all the suspects on the list had been rounded up and transferred to The Hague, or otherwise accounted for, it left a lot of killers at large in the Balkans and many atrocities ignored and forgotten by justice. In Serb eyes, the justice meted out by the Hague Tribunal was partial in more ways than one. Crimes against Serbs, they say, have largely gone unpunished. They point in particular to the killings of hundreds of mostly elderly Serbs in Croatia in the aftermath of Operation Storm in August 1995, and the murder of Serb civilians at the hands of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) guerrillas after the 1999 war. There was outrage over the acquittal of Orić, the Bosniak commander in Srebrenica, and of Haradinaj, the former KLA commander. The latter’s trial was marked by the death and disappearance of several of the witnesses. The Serbs are right to think that crimes against their countrymen have gone unpunished but incorrect to think they are alone in being so wronged. There are too many graves containing the bones of all ethnicities for international justice to cope with, given finite resources. Such inadequacy does not discriminate against Serbs in favor of Bosniaks, Croats, and Kosovars. It discriminates against victims in favor of perpetrators. Some of the deficit has been made up by national war crimes courts established in the former Yugoslav states—another legacy of the ICTY. The parallel courts in Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia have been able to cooperate better than expected and have mounted hundreds of prosecutions. However, they lack political support and have on occasion stumbled spectacularly. In 2013, the court in Sarajevo was forced to release twelve men who had been indicted for war crimes, including six allegedly involved in the Srebrenica massacres, because the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled they had been tried under the wrong criminal code 12.
The Serbian Special War Crimes Court in Belgrade, established in 2003, convicted seventy people in its first ten years of existence, but an Amnesty International report in June 2014 found that, largely due to government support that was tepid at best, “the number of completed prosecutions remains low, and the rate at which indictments are brought is too slow.” 13 The record of the Croatian Special War Crimes Chamber is even worse. An Amnesty International report in 2010 found that the system completed on average only eighteen war crimes trials a year, with seven hundred cases awaiting prosecution. Three-quarters of these cases were targeted at ethnic Serbs. War crimes committed by Croats have gone largely unpunished and un-investigated.
The hardest irony to accept for the prosecutors and investigators who led the Hague manhunt has been the ICTY’s own role in undoing their legacy. After all the suspects had been successfully rounded up, the tribunal’s judges reversed a string of convictions of high-ranking defendants on appeal, including the Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač in November 2012, and then the Serbian chief of staff, General Momčilo Perišić. Even more controversially, at the end of May 2013, the tribunal acquitted Jovica Stanišić and Franko Simatović, two senior state security officials from the Milošević era who had been instrumental in arming, equipping, and training Serb paramilitary groups responsible for wholesale abuses in Croatia and Bosnia. The series of acquittals represented a sharp about-face for the tribunal, which had hitherto held senior officers and officials accountable for the mass atrocities committed by their underlings on the grounds that they were involved in a “joint criminal enterprise.” Under the leadership of an American judge, Theodor Meron, an eighty-three-year-old Holocaust survivor and former Israeli diplomat, the new judgments significantly raised the threshold of proof needed to convict political leaders. It was no longer enough to demonstrate that senior officers had control over the units who committed mass murder. The prosecution now had to be able to show evidence of specific orders to carry out particular crimes. So although the court had evidence that Stanišić had made reference to mass killings and had declared “we’ll exterminate them completely,” that seemingly damning remark was judged “to be too vague to be construed as support for the allegation that Stanišić shared the intent to further the alleged common criminal purpose.” 14 The decisions caused a rift at the heart of the tribunal. Michèle Picard, a French judge on the panel that acquitted Stanišić and Simatović, delivered her dissenting verdict, arguing, “If we cannot find that the accused aided and abetted those crimes, I would say we have come to a dark place in international law indeed.” 15 A Danish judge on the tribunal, Frederik Harhoff, went further in his dissent, circulating a letter to fifty-six friends and lawyers suggesting Meron had put pressure on his colleagues to acquit the high-profile defendants. Harhoff also questioned whether the tribunal president was himself under the influence of the US and Israeli governments, concerned that the principle of “joint criminal enterprise” could one day put them in the dock for backing armed groups in places like Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan. “You would think that the military establishment in leading states (such as USA and Israel) felt that the courts in practice were getting too close to the military commanders’ responsibilities,” Harhoff wrote. “In other words: The court was heading too far in the direction of commanding officers being held responsible for every crime their subordinates committed. Thus their intention to commit crime had to be specifically proven.” 16
Harhoff was subsequently removed from the tribunal’s bench on the grounds the letter reflected bias, and he was criticized for singling out Meron for his US and Israeli identity. But it was hard to escape the conclusion that some of the tribunal’s judges had taken fright at the consequences of its work for all states waging proxy wars through allied militias. They had wanted to bring some justice to the former Yugoslavia, not change the world. Their strongest critics argued that, in acquitting the generals and the spy chiefs, they had done neither. The acquittals, wrote Eric Gordy, a lecturer in the politics of Southeast Europe at University College London, marked “a sad end to the story of a court that was founded with little hope, encouraged some, then jettisoned it all.” 17 When Meron went to Sarajevo to mark the tribunal’s twentieth anniversary in May 2013, the mothers of the Srebrenica victims turned their backs to him as he began to speak, while other activists walked out holding aloft a banner declaring “RIP Justice.” Nataša Kandić, a veteran human rights activist from Belgrade, said, “The consequences of these rulings are clear. You cannot expect indictments based on command responsibility. After these verdicts, it’s very difficult to speak about justice in the region.” 18 For Hasan Nuhanović, a Srebrenica survivor, the tribunal’s apparent about-face was the last veil to be lifted on an illusion of justice. Nuhanović’s mother, father, and brother were killed by Bosnian Serb forces. His mother’s burned remains were found on a trash dump. The bodies of his father and brother were buried in a mass grave and then dug up with hundreds of others and reburied in a second pit, where they were finally identified. “We wanted the reconstruction of our homes. Hundreds of villages just disappeared from the map, and we wanted to be somehow compensated, along with getting the arrest of war criminals. We lived an illusion, thinking that if someone lived through something like that, they would be rewarded,” Nuhanović said. “We realize now that package will never be delivered. And what did we get for living through all that? We got the absence of war.” 19 A short-lived Balkan Spring broke out in February 2014, bringing demonstrators onto the streets of Bosnian towns to protest against the country’s economic and political stagnation. It produced a generational divide between the mostly young activists, who wanted more from life, and their parents, who vividly remembered the war and were still grateful they were no longer under fire and their children were no longer being killed. Even that single irreducible achievement, the absence of war, seems under threat. The youth of different ethnicities mix less now than at any time in the region’s history, and each is taught a different version of history. Reconciliation has never seemed so far off. The sense of foreboding has grown every time a protagonist in the Yugoslav carnage has been set free. It is not just the ICTY’s acquittals that have fed this dread. Thanks to the liberal sentencing guidelines under which many of the war criminals were jailed, men convicted of dozens or even hundreds of killings are benefiting from early release, having served two-thirds of their sentences. They are returning home, to be welcomed as heroes by their communities. Krajišnik was greeted in Pale by thousands of people waving flags and placards bearing nationalist slogans. Always under Karadžić’s shadow during the war, he had never previously received such adulation. A former Bosnian Croat separatist leader, Dario Kordić, who had been convicted of orchestrating the massacres of Muslims in central Bosnia, was released in June 2014 after serving two-thirds of his twenty-five-year sentence. He too was met by cheering crowds, flags, and slogans, as well as a Catholic bishop who conducted a thanksgiving mass. Slavo Kukić, a Bosnian Croat university professor who criticized Kordić’s welcome, was beaten up with a baseball bat 20.
The return of the Hague Tribunal’s convicts has been accompanied by a drive to erase memories of the slaughter. After survivors and bereaved families put up a memorial to the mass murder of Muslims in Višegrad, the response of the local Serb authorities was as unsubtle as it was symbolic. They arrived with an angle grinder and removed the word “genocide” from the stone monument. A group of Višegrad widows tried to restore it in lipstick, only for it to be obscured by municipal white paint a few days later 21. In Višegrad, and at the sites of other mass killings of Bosniaks, Serb nationalists have not only prevented memorials to the victims; they have made a point of erecting monuments to fallen Serb soldiers instead. “Those who committed the war crimes against us are still winning. They are killing our truth,” said Bakira Hasečić, a Višegrad survivor who was raped multiple times by Serb paramilitaries at her home and in the local police station in 1992. Her sister was raped and killed. Her eighteen-year-old daughter was raped in front of her and had her head smashed by a rifle butt, yet survived. In western Bosnia, where the most notorious concentration camps were situated, the story is the same. On the grounds of one of these camps, at Trnopolje, where torture and rape were rife and where hundreds of Bosniaks and Croats were killed, a concrete memorial to fallen Serb soldiers has been placed at the entrance and inscribed with an ode to freedom. Omarska, an iron ore mine that served as a death camp during the war, is now run by a Luxembourg-based multinational steel corporation, ArcelorMittal. The firm says it is perfectly ready to put up a memorial on the site, just as soon as the local authority in Prijedor gives its consent. That is something the town council, run by Serb nationalists, has declined to do. When he was thirty, Kasim Pervanić spent a few months in Omarska, along with hundreds of other Bosniak men. Every night, the guards would read out a list of names. The men on the list were taken away and never came back. Most were killed in a large shed known as the White House. The guards called Pervanić’s name one night but he hid and the guards left empty-handed. More than twenty years on, he still wakes up sweating at 2:30 a.m., the same time they came for him. After failing to settle abroad, in the United Kingdom or Holland, Pervanić returned to Kevljani, his village, which is a mile or so from Omarska and the site of a massacre of its Bosniak residents 22 When he got back in 2003, there was nothing left of the settlement. It had been obliterated and its foundations were submerged in tall grass. He spent nine years building a new house, with a traditional square, double-decked roof—a singular act of determination and defiance. He lives alone but the memories come calling every day. The postman was one of the Omarska guards. The man who sells Pervanić metal wire for his construction work was a camp commandant. He never talks about the past unless they mention it first. Then he cannot help himself. They dwell on the people they saved, not the people that were killed. “So who killed all these people then?” Pervanić asks. “It looks like no one is responsible. “As time goes by you become numb. You lose your feelings,” he said. “It is nineteen years since the war and fourteen years since I came back here. No Serb has spent the night in a Muslim village, and no Muslim has ever spent the night in a Serb village … If there was a new war, no one would survive. No one would be spared.” The war criminals are walking free again. Nationalism is on the rise and the memories of the dreadful past are being physically erased. Victims are being made to cower once more. For those who stood by while the crimes were committed and waved their flags on cue, it is more comfortable to imbibe the familiar nationalist bromides, reassuring themselves they were the true victims. The sound of the slogans blocks out the murmurs of the bones buried under their feet. So after such an extraordinary achievement—the relentless pursuit of the accused until all 161 names on the Hague list had been checked off and the mission completed —what is there left as a legacy? Some justice was done. A few score of the guilty stood before the dock and were made to listen while the survivors recounted the bare facts. The convicted were deprived of some years of liberty. It is not justice’s fault that this appears so paltry in face of such atrocious crimes. This is all it has to offer. That and a reasonable stab at the truth. “Without the tribunal there wouldn’t be a database of seven million documents which very clearly gives the history of the conflict, so that no one can deny that crimes have taken place, and that genocide has been committed,” Serge Brammertz, the ICTY’s last chief prosecutor, said 23. Resurgent nationalists in the states of the former Yugoslavia are covering over the truth of what happened with a thick layer of revisionism and denial, but the meticulous record of the tribunal, with its seven million documents, cannot be buried forever. Nor can the demand for justice for humanity’s worst crimes. The Yugoslav manhunt showed that the judgments of an international court could be enforced. It showed that, given time, resources, and political will, war criminals could ultimately be tracked down and held to account. It set a benchmark against which all future efforts will be judged.
Notes 1. “Mladić Refuses to Testify for Karadžić at ICTY Trial,” BBC News (January 28, 2014). 2. According to anonymous sources within the ICTY prosecutors. 3. Naser Orić, interview with author, February 13, 2014. 4. A Dutch investigation in April 2006 found Milošević died of natural causes. Although there had been evidence that he had been taking unprescribed, smuggled medicines in the preceding months, there was no evidence of them in his cell when he died. 5. Veselin Šljivančanin, interview with author, October 31, 2013. 6. Momčilo Krajišnik, interview with author, February 11, 2014. 7. “Scheveningen—a Far from ‘Normal’ Prison,” Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (November 27, 2013). 8. Krajišnik, interview with author, February 11, 2014. 9. James Owen, Nuremberg: Evil on Trial (London: Headline Review, 2006). 10. For an account of the International Criminal Court’s genesis, see David Bosco, Rough Justice: The International Criminal Court in a World of Power Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014). 11. The former US war crimes envoy David Scheffer suggested a legal framework for the ICC’s own tracking team in 2014 (“Proposal for an International Criminal Court Arrest Procedures Protocol,” Northwestern Journal of International Human Rights, Vol.12, Issue 3), but it remains very much a theoretical exercise. 12. “Euro Court Rules Bosnia War Crimes Sentences Unjust,” Balkan Investigative Reporters Network (July 18, 2013). 13. “Serbia: Ending Impunity for Crimes Under International Law,” Amnesty International (June 2014). 14. ICTY document, trial chamber judgment, “Prosecutor v. Jovica Stanišić and Franko Simatovic,” vol. II (May 30, 2013). 15. Ibid. 16. “ICTY Judge Frederik Harhoff’s Email to 56 Contacts, June 6, 2013,” published online by Danish newspaper BT 17. Eric Gordy, “What Happened to the Hague Tribunal,” New York Times (June 2, 2013). 18. Nataša Kandić, interview with author, October 29, 2013. 19. Hasan Nuhanović, interview with author, February 10, 2014. 20. “Bosnian Professor Beaten for Criticising War Criminal,” Balkan Investigative Reporters Network (June 24, 2014). 21. Julian Borger, “War Is Over—Now Serbs and Bosniaks Fight to Win Control over a Brutal History,” The Guardian (March 23, 2014). 22. Kasim’s younger brother, Kemal, who he helped keep alive in Omarska, has made a film about Kevljani called Pretty Village. 23. Serge Brammertz, interview with author, October 3, 2011.
Le monde de la défense et de la sécurité s’occupe de plus en plus de nous. Pourquoi ne pas s’occuper de lui ? Dans la foulée de l’insurrection populaire de quelques jours qui a acculé le président Blaise Compaoré à la démission, l’armée a repris le pouvoir au Burkina Faso, l’ancienne Haute-Volta : c’est la septième fois dans l’histoire de ce pays enclavé en bordure du Sahel où — comme ailleurs en Afrique — les militaires balancent entre leurs rôles de prédateur et de rédempteurs…
Terminons-en d’abord avec le « beau Blaise » qui, au fil des temps, et contrairement à son ancien compagnon Thomas Sankara, était devenu un relais du système « françafricain » à l’ancienne, même si le Burkina — « pauvre mais digne », Mecque des ONG — posait moins de problèmes que d’autres pays ; et que Compaoré lui-même, devenu un passionné de diplomatie, rendait des services, se comportant ces dernières années en médiateur souvent utile dans les conflits sur le continent noir : nord du Mali, Togo, Mauritanie, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinée, Darfour…
Mais cela n’a pu faire oublier ses interventions plus anciennes et plutôt déstabilisantes au Liberia, en Sierra-Leone, en Angola, avec un fort parfum de trafic d’armes, dans les années 1990. Ni bien sûr son rôle central dans le putsch qui aboutit à l’assassinat de son compagnon, le capitaine Thomas Sankara — resté vingt-sept ans plus tard une icône romantique au pouvoir aussi fort en Afrique que l’est celle de Che Guevara en Amérique latine. Ni par la suite, son entêtement — après vingt-sept années de pouvoir – à imposer une modification de la Constitution pour s’offrir quinze années de plus à la tête du Burkina : l’ambition, le tripatouillage de trop…
Le réveil de la rue à Ouagadougou et dans les grandes villes burkinabés a d’ailleurs fait penser au « printemps tunisien » : Ben Ali et Compaoré étaient arrivés au pouvoir pratiquement ensemble. Et en seront sortis un peu dans les mêmes conditions, contraints à la fuite pour ne pas avoir compris assez tôt de quoi il retournait, et avoir concédé trop peu et trop tard.
Certains voient déjà, dans ces trois journées d’insurrection populaire au Burkina, les prémices d’un « printemps africain » qui pourrait concerner au premier chef — outre le Burkina — les pays de l’ouest et du centre, où les alternances paraissent impossibles, les constitutions toujours manipulées, les successions non préparées, les dynasties trop verrouillées : Cameroun, Gabon, Togo, Congo-Brazza, Congo-Rdc, Rwanda, Tchad, Djibouti.
Les « corps habillés »
En Afrique, comme naguère en Amérique latine, le rôle des armées reste central. Non qu’elles soient particulièrement efficaces ou pléthoriques — à l’exception de l’armée sud-africaine, la plus moderne ; des armées éthiopienne et érythréenne, les plus nombreuses ; ou de l’armée nigériane, la plus active dans l’espace ouest-africain.
[Erratum. — Depuis 2013, le départ de son contingent en République Centrafricaine a révélé la politisation et la corruption du rôle de l’armée dans la politique étrangère de l’Afrique du Sud. Le scandale concernait notamment l’accord des présidents Jacob Zuma et François Bozizé troquant la présence militaire sud-africaine contre l’accès d’entreprises sud-africaines aux gisements pétroliers, diamantifères et aurifères de la RCA. L’armée nigériane joua un rôle clé dans la défaite des seigneurs de guerre libériens et sierra-léonais (Charles Taylor, RUF). Mais depuis lors, la détérioration de la Fédération nigériane (kidnapping et tueries du MENDA dans le Delta, horreurs de Boko Haram au nord-est, ont mis à nu ses défaillances profondes (violence gratuite et corruption). Les armées d’Ethiopie et d’Erythrée se regardent en chiens de faïence ou se combattent. Cette situation fratricide mise à part, les activités martiales de ces deux pays dépendent largement des plans anti-terroristes du Pentagone et de l’armée américaine. — Tierno S. Bah]
L’armée burkinaɓe, comme celle de la plupart des Etats sahéliens, ne compte en revanche que sept mille hommes, dotés d’un matériel limité, si l’on excepte le régiment de sécurité présidentielle (que commandait en second le nouvel « homme fort » du Burkina, le lieutenant-colonel Isaac Yacouba Zida).
Mais ces « corps habillés » 1, le plus souvent issus, dans la partie ouest ou centrale du continent africain, de la matrice des anciennes forces coloniales, restent — surtout en cas de troubles politiques majeurs — un recours habituel : dans des pays où l’Etat est souvent faible, ils font figure de point fort, de communauté disciplinée et soudée, qui n’hésite d’ailleurs pas à défendre les armes à la main son statut, ses salaires ou avantages.
Dans une dialectique « gagnant-gagnant », associant le sommet de l’Etat à la haute-hiérarchie militaire, on a même vu naître dans certains pays — pour prix de la sécurité que les « corps habillés » procurent au pouvoir politique — une classe d’officiers enrichis, moitié militaires moitié businessmen, dont le sort était lié pour le meilleur ou pour le pire à celui des plus hauts gouvernants.
Dans quelques cas, on a affaire à des « militaires-rédempteurs », soucieux de l’intérêt national, de l’intégrité du territoire, de la nécessité de protéger la population : leur sens de l’organisation et de la discipline, leur technicité, leur frugalité, leur bon contact avec le monde villageois, ont pu contribuer à pacifier et réorganiser un pays, au service de la construction de l’Etat-nation. On pense, par exemple, aux débuts du général Kountché (Niger, 1976), ou du capitaine Sankara (Burkina, 1983).
Dans des cas récents (Tunisie, Egypte, Madagascar), les militaires se sont interposés entre les forces de police (compromises avec les anciens régimes autoritaires) et la société civile, obtenant — comme en Egypte — d’y jouer à nouveau un rôle politique majeur.
Dans des cas trop rares — comme l’Afrique du Sud ou le Mozambique — la refonte des forces de sécurité a été « entreprise en tant que composante essentielle d’un projet global de reconstruction de l’Etat et de transformation de la société », comme l’expliquait Anatole Ayissi, de l’Institut des Nations unies pour la recherche sur le désarmement (Unidir), dans Le Monde diplomatique en janvier 2003 (Anatole Ayissi, « Ordre militaire et désordre politique en Afrique, Le Monde diplomatique, janvier 2003.)
Messies en treillis
Mais, le plus souvent, les Etats africains sont malades de leurs armées. Il n’a pas manqué, au cours de ces soixante années d’indépendance, de « messies en treillis » :
Plus de soixante dix coups d’Etat ont été menés entre 1960 et 2010, dans vingt-trois pays subsahariens (sur quarante-huit), a compté Georges Courade 2. Parmi les champions du genre : le Nigeria (9 pronunciamentos), le Ghana, les Comores, la Guinée-Bissau, et le Burkina…
Ces armées sont souvent divisées (ainsi que l’a illustré à nouveau, à Ouagadougou, la difficile désignation d’un officier supérieur pour incarner la transition), et « à deux vitesses », avec des unités d’élite type « garde présidentielle », richement dotées, recrutées souvent sur critères politico-ethniques ; et une armée du tout venant, non spécialisée, mal équipée et mal commandée :
« S’il est vrai que la complicité entre le politique et le soldat a fait de certains individus et de certaines unités des privilégiés du “système”, l’état général des forces armées en Afrique est le plus souvent déplorable, précisait Anatole Ayissi 3.
Et, à côté des nantis, il existe une autre armée tout au fond de l’échelle sociale de la “hiérarchie” militaire. Elle est faite de tous ces marginalisés en uniforme, miséreux, clochardisés au cœur d’une galaxie où les privilégiés affichent scandaleusement leur puissance et leur richesse (…)
Face à la précarité matérielle, à la discrimination et à l’exclusion, nombre de ces soldats laissés pour compte basculent facilement de l’indigne statut d’honnêtes miséreux en uniforme à celui, moins honorable mais beaucoup plus profitable, de “soldat de fortune”. L’une des terribles “innovations” de l’atroce guerre civile de Sierra Leone fut le “sobel” – “soldier and rebel” –, une sorte de militaire hybride ayant la faculté d’être “soldat” le jour et “rebelle-gangster” la nuit.
Si la misère d’un citoyen civil peut demeurer un simple problème social, la misère d’un soldat en armes peut dégénérer en un défi politique propre à mettre en danger non seulement la survie du régime, mais également la paix et la stabilité de la société tout entière. Là réside l’extrême danger de la clochardisation des forces armées ».
En brousse, dans les quartiers, les soldats sont donc souvent craints : il leur est reproché d’être surtout tournés vers « l’ennemi intérieur », et de profiter de la population (pillage, rapine, taxes sur les contrôles routiers), etc.
Dans certains cas, des soldats massacrent, brûlent, violent, sans autre but que l’intérêt au jour le jour, l’obéissance à un chef ou à un clan.
« Les forces armées ont aussi à assimiler qu’elles ont à défendre un territoire et une nation, avant de conforter des régimes autocratiques ou d’y asseoir un des leurs ! », plaide la CADE 4, pour qui il importe de « professionnaliser » au plus vite les cinq cent mille à un million d’hommes et de femmes des « corps habillés » qui constituent les effectifs des forces de sécurité au sud du Sahara.
Dans l’immédiat, outre — pour les populations — les interrogations nées de la récupération militaire de ce « printemps burkinaɓe », cet effacement du régime Compaoré complique un peu plus le grand jeu sécuritaire au Sahel, dans lequel s’illustrent notamment les Français.
Une unité des forces spéciales françaises, avec les yeux tournés surtout vers le Mali et le Niger, stationnait au sud du Burkina : y restera-t-elle ? Sur le plan politique et diplomatique, Compaoré jouait les entremetteurs, passait les plats : qui le fera désormais ?
Comme l’expliquait Michel Galy sur BFM-TV (le 31 octobre 2014), il faudra surtout que Paris, confronté soudain à la perte de ce partenaire typiquement « françafricain » et à ce « vide sécuritaire » au Burkina, « revoie son logiciel politique » à l’égard de ce pays, et sans doute bientôt à l’égard de tous ceux où se posent de semblables et difficiles problèmes de succession.
Notes 1. Les « corps habillés » (en uniforme) incluent en général l’armée, la gendarmerie, la police. 2. Les Afriques au défi du XXIe siècle, Belin, 2014. 3. op. cit. 4. Exposition itinérante de la Coordination pour l’Afrique de demain (CADE), sous le titre « Les Afriques qui se font », CADE, 2012.
Philippe Leymarie collaborateur du Monde diplomatique et de Radio-France internationale sur les questions africaines et de défense. Auteur, avec Thierry Perret, des 100 Clés de l’Afrique.