Ratko Mladic: Continuing Serbian War Criminals’ Fine Tradition of Hysterics and Contempt

The New York Times on Tuesday had a short piece about the 2nd court appearance of Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic.  General Mladic was a major figure in the Bosnian Serb military operation of ethnic cleansing during that war, in effect perpetrating Europe’s most ghastly campaign of violence since the Red Army crushed the 1956 Hungarian revolt by shooting up Budapest.  He is most-often mentioned in the press today in connection with the Srebrenica Massacre in which about 8,000 Bosnian men and boys aged 12 to 77 were killed because they were males of current, pending or recent military age.  Over 100,000 Bosnian civilians were killed and about 1 million were violently expelled from their homes in an ultimately failed campaign of ethnic cleansing intended to leave most of Bosnia and Herzegovina for settlement by the rump remains of a newly-nationalist Yugoslavia.

The timeline of events leading up to the Srebrenica Massacre are worth considering.  More than anything, this account demonstrates the inadequacy of mere “witnessing” or armistice-maintenance UN missions for dealing with civil wars of a certain, vicious type.  The BBC’s account of the course of events in Srebrenica in July 1995 is a tragicomedy in the worst way, a story of blood spilled, ultimately, because Dutch Blue Helmets under a UN mandate insisted on maintaining their safe zone–an area where civilian refugees should have been able to escape the violence wracking the Bosnian countryside–by the book.  The Blue Helmets were inadequately-armed, they refused to rearm a retreating Bosnian Muslim faction that had relinquished their weapons to enter the safe zone, they declined to maintain their defense perimeter under heavy Serb shelling, the Dutch Colonel leading the Blue Helmets was denied air cover because of his apparent misuse of a request form (!), and eventually the Blue Helmets were compelled to withdraw from the safe zone and even relinquish 5,000 Bosnian Muslims who had turned to them for protection, in exchange for the safety of 30 of their own who had embarrassingly been taken hostage by the Serb militia.

The Liberal Ironist sees in the several embarrassments at Srebrenica a lesson for humanitarian interventions in a civil war: Take sides.  Roll up your sleeves and do the dirty work.  If irregular military tactics are being deployed and the targeting of civilians is a principal objective of the campaign, the insistence on hyperformality and hyperlegality in the conduct of the intervention subjects the entire operation to the risk of subversion by the dominant belligerent.  In April 1994 the Rwanda Genocide (which resulted in 1 million deaths in about 10 weeks) was immediately proceeded by a politicide of Rwandan liberals opposed to Hutu militancy–including not only the assassination of the prime minister of the time but the killing of the Belgian Blue Helmets who were supposed to guard her by her Rwandan Army assassins.  They were killed immediately after turning over their own weapons to the army; this they did because refusing that request could have led to a fight, which would have meant taking sides, which they saw as exceeding their mandate.

In short, the way the UN mandate on the Libyan intervention has been interpreted–specifically, attack oncoming Loyalist military convoys with extreme prejudice–is best-suited to the purposes of the mission.

Back to Ratko Mladic: This man has so far comported himself like a spoiled child in the courtroom.  As Judge Alphons Orie, presiding over the United Nations war crimes tribunal in the Hague, read the 11 indictments against General Mladic, the latter sought to demonstrate something he will never prove to his own satisfaction–his manhood–shouting “Don’t read it to me, not a single word.”  This was perfectly in keeping with Slobodan Milosevic’s brazen but meaningless taunts of the war crimes tribunal in the Hague when he was forced to hear indictments and offer a defense.  A man who faced an orderly prosecution who believed himself an embodiment of his own principles should, on some level, relish a chance to hear the charges against himself and offer reasons and a defense.  But a genocidal leader is just a man-child.  Milosevic died pathetically, in his cell awaiting judgment, apparently in a botched self-poisoning that was supposed to leave him too sick to stand trial.  Much as Prime Minister Cameron, President Sarkozy and President Obama were right to interpret the UN mandate to intervene to protect civilians in Libya as authorizing a campaign against Loyalist forces, Judge Orie was right not to stoically abide Mladic’s perspective on the indictments, and ordered him out of the courtroom.  In the mass-murderer’s absence, he entered not-guilty pleas for all 11 counts.  Let the trial begin.

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