A dramatic suicide in a ‘court’ of fake justice
After a war crimes tribunal rejected his appeal, a Bosnian Croat general drank poison and died. His last words resonate with many in the Balkans, who regard the court as a tool of US and NATO that has not fostered justice, but only made war wounds worse.
On Wednesday, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), rejected the appeal of General Slobodan Praljak, who had been sentenced to 20 years in prison. Outraged, the former film director took a vial of poison from his pocket, drank it, and passed out. He later died in hospital.
“Slobodan Praljak is not a war criminal! I reject your verdict with contempt!” were his last words.
Before this dramatic act, Praljak was mostly known as the man who ordered the destruction of the Old Bridge in Mostar in November 1993. The iconic Ottoman span that gave the city its name was repeatedly struck by Croat artillery until it collapsed into the Neretva river.
Hungarian divers recovered the masonry, and Turkish builders reconstructed the span, which reopened in July 2004. Rebuilding Bosnia-Herzegovina after the 1992-95 war has proven a far more daunting task. Six months or so before the Mostar bridge was destroyed, the ICTY was officially set up to establish justice and foster reconciliation.Today, however, more than half of Bosnia likely shares Praljak’s contempt for the “court.”
Let’s get this out of the way first: the ICTY’s legitimacy is dubious at best. It was established by the UN Security Council Resolution 827, in May 1993. By doing so, the UNSC usurped the legislative and judicial powers it simply did not possess, and even empowered the tribunal to write its own rules and laws, as Serbian law scholar Kosta Cavoski has noted.
From day one, basically, the ICTY has acted as the judge, jury and ‒ some have suggested ‒ even a de facto executioner, denying seriously ill defendants proper medical care. There has been no explanation how Praljak obtained the poison, or how he was able to bring it into the courtroom. Praljak is not the first defendant to die in ICTY’s custody. The most famous one, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, mysteriously passed away in March 2006, before the conclusion of his process. Just a few days prior, another ethnic Serb politician, Milan Babic, somehow committed suicide at the Scheveningen jail.
In October 2015, Serbian forensic pathologist Dusan Dunjic was found dead in his hotel room in The Hague. The cause of his death was quickly ruled natural. Dunjic was a defense witness in the process against the Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic. Last week, Mladic was sentenced to life in prison for “genocide” in the city of Srebrenica.
Under the powers it usurped, the ICTY can redefine genocide to mean a single city - or even three men in a village, as the tribunal decided in the case of Bosnian Serb General Zdravko Tolimir in 2015. However, the tribunal never established any evidence of intent to back that claim up, as Judge Prisca Matimba Nyambe of Zambia pointed out in her brave dissent to the December 2012 Tolimir verdict.
“On the totality of the evidence on the record, I am wholly unpersuaded that the Accused is guilty of any of the charges alleged in the indictment,” she concluded.
Theoretically impartial and independent, in practice the tribunal has been funded by the US and its allies and relied on NATO for arrests and enforcement. ICTY officials have repeatedly thanked the US government for its financial and political support, in particular the “mother of the tribunal,” Madeleine Albright.
In 1999, while Albright was secretary of state, NATO launched a war on Yugoslavia, alleging a humanitarian crisis and atrocities in Serbia’s province of Kosovo. The war explicitly violated NATO’s own charter, as well as that of the UN. Yet when asked to probe NATO’s actions in the war, the tribunal basically said NATO told them everything was legal, and they took the alliance’s word for it.
On April 20, 1999, chief prosecutor Louise Arbour held a joint news conference with UK Foreign Minister Robin Cook, a representative of one of the major NATO powers. On May 27, she issued an indictment of President Milosevic. That action “justifies in the clearest possible way what we have been doing these past months,” State Department spokesman James Rubin told CNN that day.
This conduct was pointed out in early 2000 by the scholar Edward S. Herman and international lawyer Christopher Black. Herman, who passed away earlier this month at the age of 92, was a harsh critic of the ICTY and the “politics of genocide” as applied by the tribunal and its NATO backers.
Commenting on the Mladic verdict in the New Eastern Outlook on Wednesday, Black called the ICTY a “stain on civilization,” and a NATO “propaganda weapon to put out a false history of the events in Yugoslavia, to cover up its own crimes.”
“The ICTY has proven to be what we expected it to be, a kangaroo court, using fascist methods of justice that engaged in selective prosecution to advance the NATO agenda of the conquest of the Balkans as a prelude to aggression against Russia,” Black wrote.
"There is no greater honor than defending your people," Ratko Mladić told me. In 1993, I asked the "Butcher of Bosnia" what he thought about being prosecuted as a war criminal. It's with great satisfaction that I see him await his verdict today in The Hague. pic.twitter.com/hwPbmi4GVJ— Christiane Amanpour (@camanpour) November 22, 2017
During the bloody dismemberment of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the fragile peace between Bosnia’s Serb, Croat and Muslim inhabitants shattered when a Bosnian Muslim leader rejected a negotiated power-sharing settlement, believing he had US support to unilaterally declare independence. The carnage that ensued was very real, but the Western press magnified it manyfold, engaging in “advocacy journalism” on behalf of the “victims of genocide.” The journalists who built their careers this way are now gloating over the Mladic verdict as their triumph.
In reality, their fake news coverage fueled ICTY’s equally fake justice. Rather than promoting reconciliation, by selectively prosecuting Serbs and Croats over killing Muslims (but not each other), the ICTY has nurtured the feeling of righteous victimhood that has prevented Muslims from reaching any sort of viable accommodation with the Christian majority. As a result, 22 years after the Dayton Peace Accords, Bosnia is still a gunshot away from another war.
Nebojsa Malic for RT
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.