A Kosovar before the Tribunal

Published : Apr 08, 2005 00:00 IST

Ramush Haradinaj in the Netherlands prior to his initial appearance at the Hague War Crimes Tribunal. - ED OUDENAARDEN/REUTERS

Ramush Haradinaj in the Netherlands prior to his initial appearance at the Hague War Crimes Tribunal. - ED OUDENAARDEN/REUTERS

The surrender of Kosovo's Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj to The Hague War Crimes Tribunal has helped international justice to be seen not as one-sided, against Serbs, in the Balkans conflict.

RAMUSH HARADINAJ, former Prime Minister of Kosovo, the Albanian-majority United Nations protectorate, surrendered on March 8 to The Hague War Crimes Tribunal in the Netherlands, following his resignation a few days earlier on being indicted for war crimes. Haradinaj's surrender to the U.N. Tribunal was followed by that of former Bosnian Serb Interior Minister, Mico Stanisic. Haradinaj was a commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which waged a war against Serbia in the late 1990s. Soldiers under his command were accused of killing Serbs and non-Albanian civilians. Stanisic has been charged with war crimes allegedly committed during the Bosnian War (1992-95). The indictment says he was responsible for crimes such as extermination, murder and deportation of Bosnian Muslims and other non-Serbs in 1992. Both Haradinaj and Stanisic have announced independently that they are innocent of the charges.

Since January 2005, four Serb Generals have surrendered to the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to face charges. In fact, in a statement last month, the Serbian government said that it "highly values" the decision to surrender by Milan Gvero, a Bosnian Serb General, after his talks with the Serbian Justice Minister. Gvero was a close aide of General Ratko Mladic, another person accused by the Tribunal, who is still evading arrest.

At the Tribunal last fortnight, Momcilo Perisic, former head of the Yugoslav Army and one of the Army Generals persuaded by Serbia to surrender, pleaded not guilty of the charges of murder and persecution of civilians in Bosnia and Croatia in the 1990s.

There are more than 100 ongoing or completed trials under the jurisdiction of the ICTY. The most well known trial, which has been under way since 2002, is that of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Biljana Plavsic, former Bosnian Serb President, pleaded guilty in 2002 of charges of crimes against humanity. She was sentenced to 11 years in prison. This January, Vidoje Blagovic, a Colonel in the Bosnian Serb Army, was jailed for 18 years for his role in the killing of thousands of Muslims in the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica.

Given that in the last six months, six Serbian and Bosnian Serb Generals have given themselves up to the Tribunal, the surrender of Kosovo's Prime Minister makes international justice seen to be not just one-sided, since the Tribunal is also bringing to trial those accused of crimes against Serbs. The public perception in Serbia of the ICTY as an anti-Serbian court has only been reinforced through the trial of Milosevic and the Tribunal's refusal to investigate the claim that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was guilty of war crimes committed against civilians in the process of bombing Serbia. Moreover, the presence of nearly 7,00,000 Serb refugees from Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo in the country has served to sustain a collective feeling of their being victims of war crimes rather than their perpetrators.

Fears about the ethnic Albanian reaction in the Albanian-majority Kosovo to the indictment of the Prime Minister led the major players on the ground - such as the European Union, Serbia and Haradinaj himself - to appeal for calm. In a television address, Haradinaj described his decision to surrender as a "sacrifice" and as an act of "cooperation with international justice, however unjust it is".

International pressure has also come into play with the recent spate of surrenders. "There is Western pressure on countries such as Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia to cooperate with the War Crimes Tribunal," said Professor Carlo Guelfi of the Rome-based Institute for Relations between Italy and Africa, Latin America and the Middle East (IPALMO). In recent years IPALMO has extended its scope of research activities to include the Balkans. "Serbia is interested in E.U. membership, while the E.U. has indicated to Serbia that any progress in this regard is contingent on its unstinting cooperation with the U.N. Tribunal. The E.U. is to decide shortly on whether to begin talks with Serbia for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement, and the recent surrenders to the Tribunal represent Serbia's compliance in this direction," said Guelfi.

AMONG the prime ICTY suspects are Radovan Karadic, the Bosnian Serbs' wartime leader, General Mladic, who led the Bosnian Serb military, and the Croatian General Ante Gotovina, who led the victorious campaign against the Serbs in Croatia in 1995.

Croatia suffered a setback in its bid for E.U. membership on account of the fugitive General Gotovina. E.U. envoys failed to agree to open membership talks with Croatia, which were due to begin on March 17. Carla del Ponte, the Chief Prosecutor for the U.N., had advised the E.U. that Croatia was not fully cooperating with the Tribunal and that Croatian government officials were not doing enough to capture Gotovina, who is accused of having overseen the killing of hundreds of Serbs and the expulsion of 1,50,000 Serb civilians during Croatia's offensive in 1995.

At the meeting of E.U. representatives, Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden were among the countries that opposed starting talks on E.U. membership for Croatia.

Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, leader of the conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), has staked much on Croatia's entry into the E.U. Describing Croatia as an indispensable partner to the E.U. in its efforts at stabilisation in the region, Sanader has spoken of incalculable negative effects both for the nation and for the wider region if Croatia's membership was delayed. Though it appears better placed than Serbia as a transition economy, nearly a third of Croatia's workforce is unemployed, and it has an accumulated foreign debt of $20 billion. The country is suffering as a result of the privatisation programmes under the late nationalist President, Franjo Tudjman, in the 1990s. The negative fallout indicated by Sanader is already apparent. Public support for the E.U. is fast receding, while right-wing nationalists are growing bolder to mobilise support against E.U. membership.

According to Carlo Guelfi, it is the prospect of such a negative impact that contributes to a second line of approach within the E.U. Says Guelfi: "Some countries are against the process of the War Crimes Tribunal as a factor that impedes stabilisation in the region." It is felt that sending signals that the E.U. was not serious, as in Croatia's case, damages the credibility of both the Tribunal and the E.U. Austria, Hungary and Slovakia are against the postponement of starting membership talks with Croatia.

In Bosnia, the U.N. High Representative (an office established by the 1995 Dayton Peace Accord, which ended the Bosnian war; the post is currently held by British politician Paddy Ashdown) dismissed nine Bosnian Serb officials in December 2004. Ashdown accused the officials of obstructing attempts to bring war crimes suspects to justice, which is a major plank of the Dayton Accord. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister of the Bosnian Serb Republic of Srpska, both resigned in protest at Ashdown's action.

In 2003, Ashdown altered the constitutions of both the Bosnian Muslim and Croat Federation and of the Bosnian Serb Republic, removing all references to statehood. The Parliament of Bosnia-Herzegovina and those of the two constituent entities are currently dominated by the three nationalist parties - the Muslim Party of Democratic Action, the Croatian Democratic Union and the Serb Democratic Party. The last elections, in 2002, reflected voter disillusionment on account of economic problems, unemployment, crime and corruption.

THE situation in Kosovo remains highly problematic. A decision on the U.N. protectorate is due in 2005, but until it comes Kosovo will continue to languish in uncertainty about whether it will become independent, remain a protectorate or be re-absorbed into Serbia. Continuing ethnic tensions erupted into large-scale violence in March 2004 between Albanian Kosovars and the Serb minority, when 19 people died and thousands were injured. Hundreds of homes were burned by Albanian extremists, with the intent of driving out the Serb and Roma minorities.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted recently that the political problems between Albanians and the Serb minority continue to obstruct economic development and power-sharing in the province. Unemployment reigns at 60 per cent and there is hardly any foreign investment in this climate of uncertainty. As regards a decision on the final status of Kosovo by 2005, the two crucial parties in the situation - the E.U. and Serbia - currently appear to lack a coherent strategy.

Yet, in the midst of this political limbo and economic devastation, the U.N. administration has been making sustained efforts to sell off the enclave's public assets. Kosovo is rich in resources with large deposits of coal, oil, lignite, zinc and precious metals. The Kosovo Trust Agency, which is responsible for economic affairs and works under the jurisdiction of the U.N. Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), has announced a programme of privatising public enterprises under its control. Various enterprises have already been auctioned, including a large nickel mining and metal processing complex. In another major move to attract foreign investors, the U.N. administration has altered the terms of land ownership and permitted the sale to companies of 99-year leases, which are freely transferable or can be used as collateral.

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