Balkan Justice: The Story Behind the First International War Crimes Trial Since Nuremberg

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Balkan Justice provides the inside story of the United Nations' Yugoslavia War Crimes Tribunal, charged with conducting the first international war crimes trials since World War II. The pages are filled with behind-the-scenes information gleaned from the author's days as an official at the U.S. Department of State and from subsequent interviews with the key players involved in this international judicial drama. The first part of the book details how the tribunal barely survived attempts by the major powers first to block the collection of evidence, then to delay the selection of a prosecutor, and finally to starve the tribunal of funding. From investigation to judgment, the second part recounts the initial case to be tried before the tribunal - that of Dusko Tadic, a Bosnian Serb pub owner accused of murdering a dozen people, beating and torturing scores of his Muslim former neighbors, and raping several young girls ... all in the name of "ethnic cleansing." Billed by the international media as "the trial of the century," the Tadic case was punctuated by gripping testimony of atrocities, controversial judicial rulings, recanting star witnesses, and performances worthy of an Academy Award. What emerges is a compelling account of the historic trial which documented the full horror of the inhuman acts committed in the former Yugoslavia.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Former State Department official Scharf (law, New England Sch. of Law) weaves a fascinating firsthand account of the creation of the Yugoslavia War Crimes Tribunal. He breezily describes key background events, such as the fall of the Ottoman Empire, before launching into detailed descriptions of the prosecution of Bosnian war crimes and the delicate political maneuvers at the United Nations. The balance of his work is devoted to a comprehensive account of the tribunal's first trial, that of Dusko Tadic, a Bosnian Serb convicted of atrocities against Muslims. Scharf compares and contrasts the Yugoslavian Tribunal to its Nuremberg predecessor, addressing the strengths and weaknesses of both and their respective impacts on human rights issues. Esssential for academic libraries and those with strong current affairs collections.Steven Anderson, Baltimore Cty. Circuit Court Law Lib., Towson, Md.
David P. Forsythe
In 1993 the United Nations Security Council, whose state members sought to avoid decisive but perhaps costly intervention in the armed conflict raging in the former Yugoslavia, tried to cover their feckless tracks by creating an international criminal court whose jurisdiction was limited to certain crimes committed in that conflict. This book is the description of the first case before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTFY). The author argues (p. xii) that this trial of the minor figure--"a minor sadist" (p. 222)-- Dusko Tadic put at stake nothing less than "the future of international humanitarian law." This is a highly dubious claim. It is suspect on two counts. First, regardless of this case, international humanitarian law (IHL)--or the international law concerned with victims of war--will continue. The 1949 Geneva Conventions of 12 August designed to protect a variety of persons who find themselves in situations of armed conflict, international or internal, are not going to be repealed. The 1977 Additional Protocols to that 1949 law, the first protocol covering international, and the second covering internal armed conflict, continue to receive widespread formal state adherence. The International Committee of the Red Cross, based in Geneva, continues to do what it can to see that IHL receives adequate attention. States and their military establishments continue to pay at least lip service to IHL and on occasion court martial their soldiers for its violations. Canada and Italy among other states have paid recent attention to IHL through their own national procedures in relation to disturbing events in Somalia during the mid-1990s. This one case does not at all put this body of law and its decentralized measures directed at compliance into jeopardy. The failure to hold Iraqi personnel culpable during Desert Storm in 1991 did not lead to ignoring IHL in former Yugoslavia during subsequent years. The law is indeed in jeopardy, but primarily from its violations by especially irregular armies, including child soldiers--who are sometimes on drugs. Whether or not Tadic was convicted of anything is a very minor matter in places like Liberia, Angola, Cambodia, etc. (Moreover, the ICTFY is not only about IHL but also about genocide and crimes against humanity.) Secondly, as long as the ICTFY tries only minor figures like Tadic while major architects of ethnic cleansing, systematic rape, and politically inspired murder and torture like Slobodan Milosevic, Radovan Karadzic, and Ratko Mladic remain free, the Court will make only a minor contribution to the development of international criminal law. Scharf himself acknowledges the need to try the big fish (p. 225). If the situation remains as it is at the time of writing, and the Western states through NATO continue to be hesitant to put their professional military personnel in harm's way in order to arrest those indicted by the prosecutor's office attached to the ICTFY, the Tadic trial will prove little. It may make a minor contribution to the emergence of a standing UN Criminal Court, the subject of a diplomatic conference set for June 1998 in Rome. But even if that court is created, the sine qua non for effective criminal justice on an international scale remains the political will of key states who must take risks to arrest those indicted. The successful conviction of Tadic on several counts of violating international law entailing individual responsibility is nothing more than a footnote to these larger issues. Absent great power political will in behalf of criminal justice, the projected UN criminal court will be as marginal as the ICTFY has been--for precisely the same reasons. (Tadic was identified by colleagues while he was in a refugee camp in Germany, whose government turned him over to the ICTFY.) BALKAN JUSTICE is a descriptive and not very profound examination of the minutiae of the first international war crimes trial since those directed against German and Japanese personnel in the 1940s. Scharf covers the evolution of the trial in excessive detail, indicating the outline of all witness testimony. Toward the end of this book the author admits that the prosecution went for a careful approach and sure conviction and thus engaged in a boring brief rather than something more dramatic (see p. 221). But Scharf did nothing to make the case come alive. Along the way, apparently to justify a book-length treatment, he gives a standard history of war crimes trials as well as of the conflict in former Yugoslavia. He also describes how the ICTFY came to be, although he spends more time on legal documents and less time on controlling political developments. He never explains, for example, why French policy shifted from helping the United Kingdom block meaningful moves toward an effective court (because they believed diplomacy, not adjudication, was the wisest way to end the fighting with accompanying atrocities) to being the sponsor of a draft resolution to create the ICTFY. Scharf does know his technical law. He is now a professor of law at the New England Law School, having been in the Legal Office in the U.S. Department of State. He observes that the ICTFY "tread dangerously close to denying Tadic a fair trial, most conspicuously by its decision to allow certain prosecution witnesses to testify anonymously and by permitting the prosecution to base so much of its case on hearsay" (p. 220). He also comments at length on a "rule 61 hearing" that allows the prosecution to present a public argument in favor of indictment (p. 151), which gives some relief to victims while increasing the pressure on the international community to act. Tadic was eventually convicted of 11 of the original 34 charges. Several counts related to rape had been dropped early on because witnesses refused to testify--apparently out of shame or embarrassment. Other charges could not be proved to the satisfaction of the court. Especially note worthy was the failure to convict Tadic of any of the charges related to grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. This was because the court chamber, in a two to one decision, held that the conflict occurring on Bosnian territory had not been proven to be an international armed conflict involving Serbian direct participation. Since grave breaches only occur, at least in law, in international and not in internal armed conflict, these charges too were thrown out. Scharf admits that the Tadic verdict was "mixed" (p. 214), with legal technicalities mixed in with both acquittals and convictions. Yet he continues to picture the case as "among the most important trials of the century" (ibid.) Thus he does not question what the international community received in return for the $20 million dollars that the trial cost (p. 224). It is true that the ICTFY resurrected the notion of international criminal responsibility on an individual basis, and that this rebirth--along with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda-- has fed into the diplomatic effort to create a standing UN criminal court. But the Tadic case showed only that small fish like Tadic might wind up in the dock. It cost the Great Powers, in so far as they are any, very little to put him there. The Tadic case gives us no assurance at all that a standing UN court can function with such reliability that there will actually be some deterrence against war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. If one wants to wrestle with the clash between brutal realism and optimistic liberalism cum criminal justice in places like Yugoslavia, one would be better directed to sources like Michael Ignatieff's THE WARRIOR'S HONOR: ETHNIC WAR AND THE MODERN CONSCIENCE; or perhaps Mark Osiel's MASS ATROCITY, COLLECTIVE MEMORY, AND THE LAW. The latter argues for liberal show trials to capture the public's attention and imagination. He is probably wrong, but at least he puts forward a provocative thesis in an interesting way. On the other hand, if one wants traditional legal description interspersed with questionable interpretations about significance, then Scharf's book will do very well.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780890899199
  • Publisher: Carolina Academic Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/1997
  • Pages: 340
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.27 (h) x 1.11 (d)

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