Ratko Mladic Trial at ICC Exposes Flaws of International Justice

On Monday the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia heard its first eyewitness testimonial in the war crimes trial of former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic. In an emotional speech, Elvedin Pasic, 13 at the time of the war, recalled his experience fleeing from his besieged Bosnian village. 

Critics of international justice point to the inaction of the International Criminal Court and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The ICC’s powers are more diverse than the Tribunal’s; therefore, more can be done to bring criminals to justice. The ICC claims to operate fairly, yet it doesn’t investigate the root causes of the war crimes, such as political agendas. The Tribunal has scratched the surface at delivering justice to the people of Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia, but the legal process is taking too long. War survivors and relatives of victims are worried that officials like Mladic will die before the court reaches its final verdict.

Mladic denies 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. After 16 years in hiding,he was arrested in May 2011 in a village in northern Serbia. His indictment states that he is accountable for the national, political, and religious persecution of Bosniak (Bosnian Muslims) and Bosnian Croat civilians. Mladic is one of many other high-ranking officials to be held on trial for the crimes committed during the Bosnian War in the former Yugoslavia. 

Mladic lead the Bosnian Serb army during the 1992-95 war. In 1992 he took control of the newly assembled Serb army in Bosnia and began the siege on Sarajevo, in which more than 12,000 people died. In 1995 he commanded his forces to overrun Srebrenica, a Bosniak safe haven protected by the UN. Around 8,000 boys and men between the ages of 12 and 77 were systematically shot.

As it stands, international law is unjust because it protects certain nations from legal scrutiny. The trouble is that the Tribunal only accepts cases that took place within the Former Yugoslavia and that were referred by UN Security Council. In addition to accepting cases from the Security Council, the ICC has jurisdiction in the territories of nations that have ratified the Rome Statute, which China, the United States, and Russia have not.

Biases exist in both the ICC and the Tribunal’s systems. The ICC combats impunity, but strangely only in the African continent, where the Security Council’s and NATO’s interests lie. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Court did not investigate the role of multinational corporations on mineral and land disputes that led to the deadliest war in African history. In Libya, the ICC’s quick decision to indict Seif Gaddafi and Abdulla Senussi was expedited by the Security Council’s and NATO’s cooperation. Perhaps instead of celebrating the ICC’s and the Tribunal’s achievements, we should be asking more of them.