The United Nations, which is supposed to represent the best of our collective aspirations for justice and human rights, yesterday represented the worst. Yesterday, the United Nations put on a passion play for genocide deniers, creating a political spectacle that tried to rewrite history.
The fight against impunity for mass atrocities may have scored a victory this week. Bosco Ntaganda, one of the most wanted war criminals in the world, unexpectedly has surrendered to the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda and asked to be sent to The Hague to face trial at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. The question now is whether his wish will be granted.
Without justice, there are no human rights. Justice is a necessary component. When there’s no justice, there’s no peace, and there’s no freedom. Justice itself is a human right and it guarantees the protection of other human rights. When we look around the world to places where human rights are violated, we see broken justice systems; we see a lack of fairness; we see lawlessness or laws meant to protect only a privileged few.
Last week, I was a witness to the changing of the guard at the International Criminal Court Office of the Prosecutor. Luis Moreno-Ocampo is stepping down after the end of his nine year term as the inaugural Prosecutor of the court, and Fatou Bensouda will succeed him in just a few short days. It’s a rare moment in the history of international criminal justice, and I was able to meet with both prosecutors at their offices in The Hague as this transition of power takes place.
Angelina Jolie has made a powerful movie about the Bosnian conflict that I will never go see. Her film “In the Land of Blood and Honey” tells the story of a Bosnian woman who is now a captive in a prison camp overseen by a Serbian soldier who was once her lover.
This is what international justice looked like Friday, July 29: Jovan Divjak, the 74-year-old Bosnian army general, reunited with his wife after five months apart. Held since March in Vienna, Mr. Divjak flew home to Sarajevo after an Austrian court ruled that it would be impossible for him to receive a fair trial in Belgrade. The ruling demonstrates that the international rule of law can trump the nasty politics of revenge and marks another important milestone in the long recovery and reconciliation of the Balkans. Years of war and decades of mistrust do not pass easily into history, but they must if once-great and diverse cities like my hometown of Sarajevo are once again to flourish. There is no reconciliation if it is not based on justice, truth and facts.
It is time for Jovan Divjak to come home. For five long months, this hero and humanitarian has been unable to leave Vienna and return home to Sarajevo while Austrian courts sort out bogus Serbian accusations against him. As they did with Ejup Ganić last year, nationalist Serbian politicians are abusing the international justice system to level baseless charges at an innocent man in an attempt to muddy up their own brutal history. As the English judge concluded in the almost identical Ganić case last year, the criminal allegations lack support and the evidence indicates that the Serbian prosecutor is politically motivated.
It surprised almost no one that Ratko Mladić, the most wanted man in Europe, turned up Thursday living in a quiet Serbian village an hour’s drive from Belgrade. But the very fact that the army general accused of ordering the massacre of thousands of civilians was captured and will stand trial for war crimes should warn mass murderers around the world that they will not go unpunished.
And maybe now my homeland can finally start to move forward.
The International Criminal Court’s commitment to investigate crimes against humanity in Libya is sending a strong message that the world’s most powerful nations are increasingly willing to stand up for the world’s most vulnerable people.
For only the second time in its history, the United Nations Security Council last week requested that the international prosecutors at The Hague intercede in an ongoing conflict. Many legal and investigative obstacles remain, but international politicians will appear intent on holding Muammar Gaddafi accountable for the murderous crackdown everyone can see on YouTube.
The legal travesty inflicted upon former Bosnian leader Ejup Ganić is a chilling reminder that truth continues to be a casualty long after war is over. Although the politically motivated war crimes case against Dr. Ganić was rejected this week, the allegations represent a broader campaign by ultra-nationalist groups within Serbia to excuse, explain and outright deny Bosnian genocide. Dr. Ganić’s case wasted time and money and distracted from legitimate international efforts to bring true war criminals to justice—men like Ratko Mladić, the Serbian general who oversaw the systematic murder of more than 8,000 unarmed civilians at Srebrenica. Fifteen years later, he still remains free.
Civil War or Aggression? Civil War or Ethnic Cleansing and Genocide? What’s the defining difference? How can I possibly answer that question without screaming, crying, raging…? For the first time, I can say with a heavy heart and tears in my eyes, I know how: Go to Srebrenica, as I did. Visit the hundreds—thousands—of mothers and sisters who still grieve. Visit their children’s and brother’s graves. Ask them what the defining difference is.
For hundreds of thousands of Haitians whose homes were pulverized in the Jan. 12 earthquake, the next three months may well shape the success—or failure—of long-term recovery.
Spring in Haiti will see the onset of the rainy season, the waning of interest by donors and the gradual departure of U.S. troops. Of these three inevitabilities, the last is most worrisome.
In less than a week on the ground here, volunteer medical teams from the Jenkins-Penn Haitian Relief Organization have treated more than 4,000 patients and distributed more than 20,000 pounds of desperately needed supplies—from antibiotics and wound care kits to 4,000 water filters. Another 270 palettes of supplies are scheduled to arrive tomorrow.
Today alone our teams fanned out across refugee camps in and around the capital. One team of 11 established a makeshift clinic and saw 240 patients—including a woman whose foot was saved from amputation because we were able to arrange transport to a hospital. Others went from tent to tent, treating wounds and seeking out critical patients in need of more intensive care.
The chaotic streets of Haiti feel eerily familiar to me, even though this is my first trip to Port-au-Prince. The crumbled buildings, the crying children and the general sense of despair reminded me almost immediately upon landing here this week of my homeland in Bosnia. The depredations visited upon Bosnia were entirely man-made, but the natural destruction in Haiti also has the very real potential to devolve into a long-term—and man-made—crisis.
That is, unless the international assistance that has poured into Haiti over the past two weeks continues long after television crews fly home and the heart-rending images they broadcast fade from the world’s screens. I know, because I saw it happen in Bosnia.
The war in Afghanistan, and the debate over how to best fight it, is understandably at the center of attention in the White House these days.
As the world’s leading power, the United States carries the burden of responsibility to oppose genuine threats to world peace. As an advisor to Haris Silajdžić, the Chairman and Muslim representative in the three-member presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, I would like to remind our American friends that the burden of leadership extends not only to decisions about war, but also to decisions about peace.