April 30, 2001Share this story by E-mail
Blaise Pascal knew what he was talking about way back in the mid 1600's when he wrote in one of his famous Lettres Provinciales: "Justice without strength is helpless, strength without justice is tyrannical
unable to make what is just strong, we have made what is strong just."
Justice is traditionally depicted as blindfolded. But when true Justice has been kidnapped and held to ransom, and her impersonator peers under the blindfold to see who the supplicant before it is so that she can deliver the "correct" judgment, the world is in trouble. We have forgotten the basic tenets on which justice is based: impartiality, the rule of evidence, the equal rule of law. "Justice cannot be for one side alone, but must be for both," Eleanor Roosevelt is reported to have said.
There is at least one court in the world today which is not operated according to the rule of law, but rather along the lines of the peremptory Queen of Hearts in the topsy turvy world of "Alice in Wonderland:" Sentence first, verdict afterwards. The Tribunal in the Hague, where evidence carries no weight unless it supports the intended sentence and normal rules of court and law appear to be suspended in order for the biggest possible number of harsh sentences to be passed out, awaits with increasing impatience the handing over of one of its biggest indictees -- Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia.
That wily politician, once an ally of the West during the dismemberment of Bosnia, found himself indicted for war crimes and atrocities during the Kosovo war, based largely on one single incident: the so-called "massacre" at Racak. The basis of his indictment has been taken apart by any number of independent international sources; those who still maintain that there was indeed a massacre are keeping a relatively low profile because there is simply no way of further justifying what was palpably a ludicrous claim.
Yes, there were deaths at Racak, deaths related to a low-level civil conflict between a government and a separatist group, a conflict which, in any other context, would have been perfectly understandable and acceptable to the west. What these deaths were is open to a number of interpretations -- however, there were emphatically not two things. They were neither a symptom of nor a harbinger of "genocide," the loaded word armed with which NATO went to war against Yugoslavia.
Yet this is what the indictment of Slobodan Milosevic rests on -- this insubstantial chimera. There has been no mention of anything prior to Racak, and anything beyond it is muddied far too much by NATO's own actions to be indictable. But it wasn't too long after Milosevic (under the watchful and threatening eye of the West) was "voted" out of the office of president in an election which has left a strange aftertaste on the palate of many analysts, that Carla Del Ponte, chief prosecutor of the Hague Tribunal, turned up in Belgrade demanding Milosevic's extradition to the Tribunal and hinting darkly at all sorts of "evidence" shored up against him which the Tribunal seemed unwilling (or unable) to produce on demand. Sentence first, verdict afterwards. The new government in Yugoslavia appears a little reluctant to comply with this, to the extent that Carla Del Ponte left spluttering after being lectured on International Law by Vojislav Kostunica, current president and himself a lawyer. But is this reluctance the equivalent of the coyness of a country bride, loath to show herself too willing lest people get "the wrong impression?"
Heaven knows that the Tribunal can produce no pressing (legal) reason to extradite Milosevic to its tender mercies, for everyone, even the Tribunal's most vociferous supporters, know exactly what the sentence of that court will be -- to the extent that they may just as well dispense with holding the trial, announce the sentence (with the caveat that it was supported by evidence which is too sensitive to be released to the general public), and be done with it. Why waste money and time on a foregone conclusion, after all?
But the fact of the matter remains that, if Milosevic was guilty of any crimes, they were crimes perpetrated against his own people. It is thus his own people who should judge him, not some kangaroo court hot for his blood in order to wash away the sins and the iniquities of the leaders of the west -- for only if Milosevic is pronounced guilty, neatly and conclusively, by the Hague Tribunal can the leaders of Britain and America pat themselves on the back and say, "There, there, we did the right thing after all for was not our enemy found evil in our stead?" Beware Yugoslavia, beware Serbia -- for it is not Milosevic who goes to trial, it is the nation itself. Let them get hold of Milosevic in the manner that they wish, let them pronounce him guilty, and that guilt clings to the children of Serbia, and their children, till the end of time. The verdict has already been entered as guilty. The mud was flung. This kind of mud clings viciously; it will not be washed away until the blood of generations is spilled upon it. Has Milosevic transgressed? Has he been a leader that has been corrupt, Machiavellian, self-serving? Then it is up to those whom he has wronged to judge him. But sell him to The Hague and the West, hungry for justification and not for justice, for the modern equivalent of thirty pieces of silver? Beware, because that may be the most expensive mistake in all the history of the Balkans.
The general public's interest in such matters waxes and wanes, depending on what is currently being spun by the world's media. Many a time a complete obliviousness is defended by the words, "But I didn't know," or "I didn't understand what was going on there." Ignorance and distance are no excuse in the law, not when the future of a whole nation is at stake. "The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance," said writer Albert Camus, "and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding."
Such evil, such malevolence, are sometimes rooted, very simply, in hatred -- it is, after all, very easy to believe or to want to believe the worst of one's enemies -- and hatred is often rooted in fear. In other words, if Milosevic can be found guilty and named the first in iniquity then the rest, even if they are black with guilt themselves, gain the possibility of hiding behind the flimsy excuse of, see, but if it hadn't been for this evil man WE would never have But in the real world cause and effect are not this pat.
The morals of this story are several, and are aimed at both the West and the Balkans. Western powers and the people of the West -- if you do not know, then do not judge; and if you do know but do not wish to acknowledge what you know, then likewise you are not in a position to judge another. Remember Eleanor Roosevelt's words. Those that shape the future of the Balkans -- be careful what you sell. Thirty pieces of silver, however many billions it comes to these days, is very little to receive in exchange for dignity, liberty, and freedom from falsely manufactured guilt.
Aleksandra Priestfield is a writer and an editor. She contributes her regular columns to Swans.
Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Aleksandra Priestfield 2001. All rights reserved.
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