Justice catches up

The 16-year hunt for former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic, widely believed to be behind the single worst atrocity to be committed in Europe since the Second World War, has ended with his arrest in a small village near Belgrade. Mladic, widely known as the ‘Butcher of Bosnia’ is accused of carrying out the massacre of around 7,500 Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebenica in 1995 and of war crimes during the three-year siege of Sarajevo, in which 10,000 people including 3,500 children died.

He faces prosecution by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on 15 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and violation of the laws of war. His capture has come almost three years after the arrest of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, his partner in the many acts of genocide. Mladic’s arrest should serve as a warning to other war criminals that they might be able to evade the law for a while but ultimately justice will catch up with them.

Mladic was able to evade capture all these years because of the protection he is believed to have received from some Serbian officials. That changed with Boris Tadic becoming Serbia’s president. Tadic signalled that he was not one to tolerate war criminals roaming free when he apologised for the Srebrenica massacre. Goran Hadzic is the last of the Serbs wanted for war crimes who continues to roam free.

The Serb government must do its utmost to hand him over for trial. The quest for justice in the Balkan wars has moved forward with the arrest and trial of Serb war criminals. But this process will remain selective and discriminatory so long as war criminals from among the Bosnian Muslims and Croats are not brought to trial. The tribunal at The Hague is seen as a political court with an anti-Serb bias.

An unpleasant chapter in the Balkans’ history has ended with Mladic’s arrest. However, the people of the region need more than arrests and trials. Reconciliation between communities torn asunder by the war is at a nascent stage. This will have to be pursued assiduously if the terrible violence that wracked the Balkans in the 1990s should not return. Karadzic and Mladic are in custody but their divisive agenda needs to be put away as well.

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