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RATKO MLADIC has been arrested. Here’s what did not happen: a team of 79 members of the Bosnian special forces – on the orders of the Bosnian government – did not helicopter into Serbia, without the permission or knowledge of the Serbian government, and execute him with a bullet to the head. That’s what did not happen.
There are some very good reasons why that did not happen. The first is that it would not only have been illegal, but detrimental to the very concept of law. The second is that it would have damaged an already tender relationship between Bosnia and Serbia, thus potentially risking the lives of many innocent people. The third is that it would have been immoral for a government to execute a man without trial, against the principle of universal human rights (particularly as expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights articles 10 and 11). The fourth is, very simply, that the United States was not involved. When the United States assassinated Osama Bin Laden on May 1st, this is exactly what happened.
Ratko Mladic was allegedly responsible for war crimes just as serious as Bin Laden’s. He was a leading figure of the Bosnian Serb army during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, and in particular he is suspected of having been directly responsible for the Srebrenica massacre of 7,500 Muslim men in July 1995. He will be tried in The Hague.
Living, as I do, in London, I must ask what the UK government has to say about this. Foreign Secretary William Hague, commenting on the arrest, said that this ‘historic moment” would bring “belated justice for [Mladic's] victims”. I must also ask why exactly William Hague’s opinions on justice have changed so radically in the past month. After the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, Mr Hague “congratulated” the United States, praising President Obama’s proclamation that “justice has been done”. Needless to say, this is fundamental hypocrisy. Either justice lies in cold blooded illegal state assassination, or it lies in arrest and trial.
“If we believe in the most basic of moral principles, we will surely conclude that assassinating suspected criminals without trial is an abrogation of universal human rights, and therefore unconscionable.”
Geoffrey Robertson QC, following the May 1st assassination, made the very modest point that the West correctly “insisted upon judgement at Nuremberg” for the Nazi leadership, and that this has “confounded Holocaust-deniers ever since”. His conclusion on Bin Laden’s assassination is rather more convincing than Mr. Hague’s: “it is absurd to claim that justice has been done”.
If we believe in the most basic of moral principles, we will surely conclude that assassinating suspected criminals without trial is an abrogation of universal human rights, and therefore unconscionable. The arrest of Mladic is clearly a victory for international justice. Yet we must also ask why it is that individuals responsible for crimes just as heinous as Ratko Mladic and Osama Bin Laden are given a completely free pass. Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli general and Prime Minister from 2001-2006, is strongly suspected of responsibility for the 1973 Yom-Kippur war, and the massacre of 3,500 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. Rifaat al-Assad, the man directly responsible for the murder of 20,000 Sunni Muslims during the Hama Massacre of 1982, is currently living in Mayfair. Those who have denied Serbia membership of the EU on the basis of its failure to capture Mladic, have been unwittingly calling for the expulsion of the United Kingdom. Quite clearly, our own leadership does not believe in the most basic of moral principles.