The case against war crimes tribunal

                    New York, February - As the International Criminal
                    Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia prepares for its
                    first war crimes trial in the Hague, Joan Phillips
                    accuses the United Nations of staging a political
                    showtrial using the methods of a kangaroo court Dusko
                    Cvjetkovic went on trial in October, charged with
                    genocide. The 26year old Serb appeared in an Austrian
                    court, accused of committing arson and murder in the
                    village of Kucice in Bosnia. The genocide indictment is
                    based on the charge that Cvjetkovic killed one or more
                    people because of their ethnicity or religion. He denies
                    the charges.

                    The trial opened in Salzburg, where Cvjetkovic has lived
                    as a refugee since April 1993. Before the day was over
                    it was obvious that the prosecution had no case. The
                    testimony of the chief prosecution witness, a Bosnian
                    Muslim, diverged considerably from his own affidavit.
                    Evidence offered by other witnesses included thirdhand
                    hearsay. The affidavits of some witnesses identified
                    people other than Cvjetkovic as the murderers. Police
                    records of statements made by Cvjetkovic and the chief
                    prosecution witness were inaccurate and contained
                    translation errors.

                    Asked during a break in the case whether he had a leg to
                    stand on, the prosecutor, Hubert Maringele, replied,
                    'not at this stage. The judge apparently agreed. But
                    instead of throwing the case our of court, he adjourned
                    the trial until 5 December to allow the prosecution to
                    find a leg. Perhaps witnesses will now come forward,
                    unaffected by the media coverage of the trial, to
                    testify that Cvjetkovic is indeed a genocidal killer.

                    The Cvjetkovic case should ring alarm bells about
                    impending war crimes prosecutions to be held under the
                    authority of the United Nations in the hague. In its
                    first public hearing on 8 november, the prosecutor's
                    office of the International Criminal Tribunal for the
                    Former Yugoslavia requested permission to ask the german
                    authorities to hand over Dusan Tadic, a suspected
                    Serbian war criminal held in Germany. If Germany allows
                    the case to go to the international court, the trial is
                    expected to start in spring 1995. Tadic is alleged to
                    have beaten, tortured, raped and killed Croats and
                    Muslims in the Prijedor region of northern Bosnia.

                    Many questions can be asked about what the UN is doing
                    staging war crimes trials. For a start, what criteria
                    are used to define a war crime? If genocide means
                    killing one person or more because of their race or
                    religion, then any number of American cops or Loyalist
                    gunmen in Northern Ireland could be so charged. This
                    sensationalisation of ordinary acts of war has become
                    routine. For example, the UN Commission of Experts talks
                    about a 'mass grave' of three or more people. Three
                    might sometimes be a crowd, but since when has it bee a

                    This type of tabloid sensationalism is nothing new to
                    the discussion of the civil war in the former
                    Yugoslavia. For three and a half years, lurid tales of
                    ethnic cleansing, death camps, systematic rape,
                    Mengelestyle experiments on human beings and genocide
                    have been the staple of media coverage of the war.

                    And it is not just journalists who have sensationalised
                    the war and been selective in attributing guilt. Stories
                    about atrocities committed by Serbs have been given the
                    stamp of authenticity ny international bodies such as
                    the UN and the EU human rights groups such as Amnesty
                    international, and women's organisations like Maris
                    Stopes. In their resolutions, factfinding missions
                    (which usually manage to find no facts) official
                    reports, advertisements and leaflets, these bodies have
                    added to the popular perception that acts of extreme
                    bestiality unseen for half a century have been carried
                    out in Bosnia and Croatia, and that the Serbs have been
                    responsible for most of them.

                    In an extraordinarily presumptuous statement in its
                    final report to the Security Council. the Commission of
                    Experts declared that the Serbs had committed war crimes
                    in northern Bosnia and would probably be found guilty of
                    genocide in court: ' It is unquestionable that the
                    events in Opstina (county) Prijedor since 30 April 1992
                    qualify as crimes against humanity. Furthermore, it is
                    likely to be confirmed in court under due process of law
                    that these events constitute genocide.' What
                    implications this will have for Dusan Tadic, who is
                    charged with committing war crimes in Prijedor, is not
                    hard to guess.

                    A consensus already exists that genocidal crimes against
                    humanity have been committed in the balkans, and that
                    one side in the conflict is more guilty than the others.
                    In this lynchmob atmosphere the idea of the accused in
                    war crimes trials being presumed innocent until proved
                    guilty, or of all persons being equal before the law,
                    goes out of the window. When such a strong impression
                    has been created of the entire Serbian people as a race
                    of bestial, genocidal killers, any individual Serb who
                    ends up in the dock will not stand much of a chance even
                    if the prosecution does not have a leg to stand on.

                    All the signs are that the sort of legless evidence
                    presented in Salzburg will be the stuff of cases at the
                    Hague. No forensic evidence is likely to be presented;
                    prosecutions will rely on personal testimonies, flimsy
                    evidence given in the magnitude of the alleged crimes.
                    in a civil war in which all sides have suffered
                    grievously, the danger of people testifying in order to
                    exact revenge is considerable, The chances of hearsay
                    evidence, which has been a recurring feature of media
                    reporting of alleged atrocities in Bosnia, being used to
                    damn the accused are high.

                    This danger is illustrated by the tens of thousands of
                    pages of evidence about alleged crimes submitted to the
                    UN by governments, international bodies, human rights
                    organisations, journalists and individuals. Many of
                    these submissions have come from unreliable sources,
                    such as the various war crimes commissions established
                    by the three parties to the conflict. Some have come
                    from prejudiced sources, such as human rights bodies
                    which have taken sides in the conflict. Others have come
                    from media reports which themselves are based on hearsay

                    On top of all this, the war crimes tribunal is in danger
                    of elevating secrecy into a principle, with its secret
                    database of testimonies, anonymous submissions,
                    protected witnesses and in camera proceedings. Secrecy
                    is antiethical to the pursuit of justice. Anybody who
                    wants to know the truth should be demanding that nothing
                    is secret and everything is out in the open.

                    The UN seems to be making up the law as it goes along
                    and trying to cover its tracks with legal mumbo jumbo.
                    For example, in order to justify the war crimes process,
                    it has decided to classify the war in Yugoslavia as an
                    international rather than an internal conflict. The UN
                    insists that the 'character and complexity' of the
                    conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia justify the
                    international designation, and therefore the application
                    of the law applicable in international armed conflicts.

                    This is arrant nonsense, designed to disguise an
                    unprecedented interference in the affairs of small
                    states. By waving a magic wand and turning a civil war
                    into an international conflict, the major powers on the
                    UN Security Council have given themselves the authority
                    to sit in judgement on the rest of the world. The
                    spectacle of the great and the good lecturing lesser
                    peoples about how to behave is a throwback to the days
                    of Empire.

                    Which brings us to the most important questions of all
                    what is a war crime, and who decides? Atrocities are
                    committed in all wars, but they are not always classed
                    as war crimes, In practice, whether an atrocity is
                    defined as a war crime depends on who is doing the
                    killing and who is doing the judging.

                    Many ugly things have happened in Croatia and Bosnia,
                    Atrocities have been committed by all combatants. But
                    why should they be singled out as war crimes? The war
                    crimes lobby argues that the atrocities in Bosnia and
                    comparable to those of the Nazis. There is no evidence
                    to support this view. The crimes for which people will
                    stand trial in the Hague are not peculiar to the war in
                    Yugoslavia. They are the staple of most wars in the
                    twentieth century which begs the question why a Serbian
                    soldier can be prosecuted as a war criminal for
                    committing atrocities, while a British soldier who
                    executes an Argentinean prisoner and outs off his ears
                    as trophies is regarded as a hero?

                    This double standard should make us suspicious of the
                    motives of those staging the war crimes trials. It is
                    not strange that we had to wait until the Cold War was
                    over (and all those atrocities committed by the British
                    and the Americans and their allies in Korea, Kenya,
                    Malaya, Vietnam, Cambodia, El Salvador and a hundred
                    other places were forgotten) before somebody was put on
                    trial for war crimes? The concept of war crimes appears
                    to be an ideological construction of New World order
                    politics, used to legitimise the international packing
                    order by branding some as criminals and casting others
                    in the role of judges.

                    All the evidence suggests that the war crimes trials are
                    politically motivated. They reinforce a moral division
                    in the world between those few nations qualified to sit
                    in judgement and the other races fit only to stand in
                    the dock. If this moral and racial divide has not
                    already become obvious in the case of the Serbs, it will
                    certainly become clearer if and when the proposal to put
                    Rwandans in the dock for war crimes is carried out. And
                    even if no case ever comes to court, the war crimes
                    process will have served its purpose for those who set
                    it in motion. The Western powers which have appointed
                    themselves to sit in judgement on less civilised peoples
                    will be sitting pretty, their authority to dictate to
                    the rest of the world strengthened by the legal
                    trappings of an international tribunal.