Editorial Board

Balkan Justice Hasn’t Deterred Crimes Elsewhere: View

Until his July 20 arrest by the Serbian government, Goran Hadzic was the last person indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia to have escaped capture. Hadzic was charged for his alleged role in the murder of Croatian civilians. This arrest is a welcome milestone for international law and for peace and prosperity in southeastern Europe.

Along with the May 26 capture of Ratko Mladic, who was indicted for war crimes committed in Bosnia, the news indicates that Serbia has broken decisively with the virulent nationalism that was the primary cause of the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Serbian President Boris Tadic deserves much credit for this transformation.

Serbia now is a strong candidate for membership in both the European Union and NATO. The prospect of joining those organizations surely spurred Belgrade’s action. Both now have a duty to respond by expeditiously welcoming a new Serbia into these crucial European institutions.

Credit also is due to the court, which focused on individual responsibility rather than collective guilt. This helped foster reconciliation among Serbs, Croats and Muslims in the former Yugoslavia.

But beyond the Balkans, it would be a mistake to exaggerate the court’s relevance as a deterrent to other would-be war criminals. The court was successful because its jurisdiction was limited and a broad consensus existed that these were the most heinous human rights violations in Europe since World War II.

The genocide in Darfur, Charles Taylor’s crimes in western Africa, the slaughter of civilians in Sri Lanka, and Muammar Qaddafi’s willingness to wage war against his own people in Libya all demonstrate a larger truth. International law, for all its good intentions, is no substitute for international action.