More than two decades after the deadly siege of Sarajevo and the massacre of some 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica, a United Nations tribunal in The Hague has convicted former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The judges handed the 70-year-old “Butcher of Bosnia” a 40-year sentence.
Good things take time and the ‘arc of justice’ is obviously a very long one. Considering the utter mess and bloody confusion that is war, it’s no surprise that this certain path to justice has taken this long. It is a promising start for a young and revolutionary idea; the concept of international criminal justice that, with the power of transparent, legitimate, properly-funded institutions, can reach across national borders with universal jurisdiction to hold individuals accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Today, there is an unprecedented number of conflicts where there is considerable evidence of mass crimes. The most infamous of them, Syria has been the site of some of the most brutal and bloody atrocities we’ve seen in the 21st Century. If we’ve learned anything from the ICTY it’s that the road to justice is a long and bumpy one. As a global community, those with a voice and the power to propel change and justice, need to immediately start putting the right mechanisms in place to investigate and prosecute mass crimes in Syria, where the war just entered its sixth year.
A UN-mandated criminal tribunal today would have tools at its disposal the ICTY didn’t. Advances in the communication technologies has made the job of monitors, investigators and experts easier and more effective. In Syria, hundreds of ragtag NGOs have been documenting the atrocities committed by the regime, militias, extremists and foreign forces. Those brave souls on the ground, some dying to bear witness to wartime crimes, need the political and material support of the UN.
A few hurdles are standing in the way. A UN Security Council that is divided by geopolitical interests, to name one problem. It is up to the rest of the member states, like New Zealand, which regularly touts itself as an involved global citizen, to push for new international criminal tribunals for today’s wars.
The international community needs to act rapidly to bring to trial those committing horrendous human rights violations, if only to honour Syria’s dead, like Sarajevo’s. A globalised world must deploy globalised justice.