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David Miller: Extraditing Slobodan Milosevic

David Miller Online

Extraditing Slobodan Milosevic: Money Talks

Apart from a hand full of protesters in Belgrade and Moscow, few people have shed a tear over the extradition of Slobodan Milosevic. After all, this was the man who after the break up of Yugoslavia, presided over a series of bloody civil wars and programmes of ethnic cleansing. The sight of Milosevic arriving at The Hague in hand cuffs serves as a reminder that even those at the highest levels of government are not immune from justice should they be responsible for atrocities and that cases such as this are not limited to the Balkans. However this case also offers another reminder and that is if you want something done, for example, a former president extradited, just be ready with the chequebook and international aid.

Slobodan Milosevic has been indicted on charges of crimes against humanity. The charges are on the grounds that he was responsible for the actions by the Serbian-led Yugoslav army in Kosovo, which is alleged to have murdered, deported and prosecuted people on the base of the political views, racial and ethnic group. Milosevic faces the prospect of life in prison if he is found guilty and it would not be surprising if further charges are laid against him following the events and atrocities that occurred during the Croatian and Bosnian wars that followed the break up of Yugoslavia.

The extradition of Milosevic has been welcomed by the international community, especially throughout the Nato countries that embarked upon a three-month bombing campaign to try and stop the actions of the Yugoslav army in Kosovo in 1999. The New Zealand government has also welcomed the move, with foreign minister Phil Goff stating that the extradition, “sends a clear message to others that they cannot with impunity commit acts of terror, violence and persecution. Political and military leaders must expect to be held accountable for the atrocities committed by their supporters either with their direct encouragement or which they have condoned by their failure to act”. Mr. Goff also made reference to the Bosnian case, when he stated that, "renewed efforts now need to be made to arrest and extradite Bosnian Serb leaders, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic who should also face trial for the widespread murder, rape and torture of Bosnian Muslims”.

Yugoslavia as it stood in 1990 was always going to struggle with the demands of the Post Cold War environment. As with Czechoslovakia, it was a state that had been put together by those who drew up the notorious Treaty of Versailles in 1919, and Serbian dominance and oppression was the glue that held it together. As with Czechoslovakia, that glue could not prevent the forces of nationalism that emerged following the end of the Soviet power in Eastern Europe, and a series of bloody wars, massacres and deportations began that shocked the world. It is ironic that Macedonia, the only one of the four states which became independent of Yugoslavia and did not suffer the under actions of Milosevic and his lieutenants, is falling victim to civil strife that the moment and it is due to the actions of those the international community supported and over whom Nato launched its air campaign.

The extradition of Milosevic will go a considerable way towards healing the wounds he and his cronies throughout the Balkans opened when Yugoslavia fell apart. While Milosevic is the highest-ranking person to face the international war crimes tribunal, his arrest draws attention to the liberty of others equally as involved. The names of former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic and his general, Ratko Mladic, come to mind. The arrest of Milosevic will bring further pressure on the Belgrade government for help in attaining their arrests.

It is unlikely the Yugoslav government will be too willing to comply. It is no coincidence that Milosevic's transfer to The Hague comes immediately prior to an international conference of donors for Yugoslavia being held in Brussels. The European Union and the World Bank are the sponsors, and it is hoped that the aid it delivers will help Yugoslavia recover from the devastation caused by the Nato air raids in 1999 and the sanctions that followed. Yugoslavia hopes to raise US$1.3 billion at the conference for their country’s recovery, which was placed in doubt after donor states and institutions such as the World Bank, told Yugoslavia that it must comply with the extradition order or the funds would be frozen.

Perhaps it is easy to be cynical about the timing of the extradition of Slobodan Milosevic, but the timing does appear coincidental. Yugoslavia is broke, its economy and infrastructure will take years to recover from the Milosevic years and as much as the country hates to admit it, Yugoslavia needs the international community and its aid. It was surprising to hear Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, who led the movement to oust Milosevic from power, call the move illegal and unconstitutional. However Mr. Kostunica is concerned for the stability of his state, claiming the move “could be interpreted as a serious jeopardising of the state's constitutional order," and that as it was a move by the Serbian government rather than the federal body, the unity of the country could be threatened. Stability, rather than Mr. Milosevic’s fate, is the concern for Mr. Kostunica, however, if the $1.3 billion aid package is used correctly then it will do much alleviate such fears and life for the Yugoslav people should improve. My colleague Sludge asks why doesn’t New Zealand and other states put pressure on Papua New Guinea to hand over those who have committed atrocities in Bougainville. The answer is we cannot afford the chequebook diplomacy of the EU and World Bank, and if we could maybe life would change in PNG. For once in its history Yugoslavia is fortunate and at the end of the day few people will shed tears for Slobodan Milosevic.


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