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Mladic: Western hypocrisy over war crimes

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The arrest of Ratko Mladic exposes the connection between the war criminals of the former Yugoslavia and the western powers, writes, Marcus Halaby

Serbia’s capture and arrest of Bosnian Serb war criminal Ratko Mladic, responsible for the massacre of 8,100 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in July 1995, has been hailed as a great day for justice and international law. He will now be taken to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague to stand trial.

Like previous arrests and indictments, of former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic and former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, it has been presented as part of a version of history in which the “international community”, having failed to prevent a genocide in Bosnia in the 1990s, then made it its mission to find and punish the culprits.

The UN mission in Bosnia, in fact, was the first post-Cold War military engagement to see the now-familiar idea of “humanitarian intervention” used as a justification. Its “failure” – usually attributed to the international community’s divisions and indecision – has been used ever since to justify more forceful interventions, in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and now Libya.

In fact, like much of what our rulers tell us about recent history, this account of their own lofty-minded, if occasionally naïve idealism, is a self-serving fairytale, intended to hide their own pursuit of much more mundane material and strategic interests. The United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR), far from being there to prevent genocide, actually facilitated the ethnic division of the country.

UNPROFOR troops in the so-called “United Nations Safe Areas” spent much of their time trying to prevent the Bosnian army from breaking the deadly siege imposed on them by the Serb militias. Sarajevo, Gorazde, Tuzla and Bihac were repeatedly shelled and attacked, while Srebrenica and Zepa were surrendered without even token resistance to forces that then massacred and expelled their Muslim populations.

While the liberal media, with the Guardian in front, lionised “plucky little Bosnia” and demonised the Serbs, the real foreign policy of the big European states (with John Major’s British government in front) saw Bosnia’s stubborn resistance to genocide and partition as a nuisance standing in the way of stability.
In their view, the Bosnian Muslims, and with them the Serb and Croat advocates of a united multi-ethnic Bosnia, were “unrealistic” and had to be brought to their senses. Time and time again, Western politicians and diplomats like David Owen and Lord Carrington presented “peace plans” for Bosnia, complete with detailed maps that divided the country into discontinuous Muslim, Serb and Croat enclaves. With each new advance by the Serb nationalist militias – bringing with it rapes, murders and mass expulsions – the maps would be re-drawn to reflect the new realities on the ground.

Serb chauvinists like Mladic and Karadzic – and later, their Croat counterparts like Mate Boban – got the message: “ethnic cleansing” works. Men like Mladic may have been malign nationalist fanatics, carrying out the sort of atrocities not seen in Europe since the Second World War, but to figures like US envoy Richard Holbrooke, their sponsor Milosevic (and his Croat counterpart Franjo Tudman) were “realists”, men that they “could do business with”.

Nor is the “international community” – the name that the imperialist powers give themselves when they act in concert – remotely qualified to try Mladic and company. Let us leave aside for the moment their own recent history of aggressive wars and atrocities against civilians: in Haditha, Mahmudiyah, Fallujah and Abu Ghraib in Iraq, and in Helmand province in Afghanistan.

Let us also leave aside for a moment their quite selective condemnation of violence and human rights abuses when committed by their allies: Israel’s starvation and bombardment of Gaza and Lebanon; Bahrain’s current suppression of its Shi’a majority, or Indonesia’s 24-year occupation of East Timor.
Let us finally also ignore the fact that Ratko Mladic, a white European, gets a full trial in public – while Osama bin Laden gets two bullets in the head and a secret burial at sea.

The ICTY, alongside the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, claims universal jurisdiction to try people accused of human rights abuses and similar crimes. But the US, the self-appointed world policeman, steadfastly refuses to be bound by them.

Republican US Senator Jesse Helms even persuaded Congress to pass the American Service-Members’ Protection Act in August 2002, to ensure that US citizens – tasked with the dirty work of occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, would have no reason to fear being arrested on foreign soil for any crimes that they might have committed. Dubbed the "Bomb The Hague" Bill and “The Hague Invasion Act”, it authorises the President to use “all means necessary and appropriate” to bring about their release.
Their own contempt for the “international law” that they lecture others in says it all.