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Jewish World Review Jan. 24, 2005 / 14 Shevat 5765

Debra J. Saunders

Debra J. Saunders
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European justice | In 1995, Bosnian Muslims fled to Srebenica — a designated United Nations "safe haven," but U.N. troops couldn't or wouldn't save them from the Bosnian Serb army. Serbian thugs first divided the men from the women, children and the elderly, and then drove them away in separate buses. In the massacre that followed, Serbian troops gunned down some 7,000 to 8,000 Muslim men.

Europe was outraged then at what good people called Europe's first holocaust since World War II. Europe and the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia in The Hague today are too busy being high-minded to be outraged.

It tells you how feckless the court has become when it sentences a defendant for aiding and abetting in genocide to a modest 18 years in prison - - and the Associated Press describes the sentence as "lengthy."

Specifically, the court found former Bosnian Serb Col. Vidoje Blagojevic, 54, guilty of aiding and abetting the genocide, murder, persecutions and inhumane acts. The 18-year sentence, if fully served, factors out to less than one day per Srebenica victim.

The court also convicted Dragan Jokic, a chief engineer in charge of bulldozing over the bodies, for murder, extermination and persecution on racial grounds. His term: nine years. Why are these sentences so short for these heinous crimes?

The tribunal noted that it couldn't prove that Blagojevic knew he was helping the military kill the Muslim males. Still, it found his troops did provide "practical assistance" in separating men and women and busing the victims out of town. He saw the buses, helped in the search operations and, according to the court, "knew of the discriminatory basis upon which the underlying acts of murder, cruel and inhumane treatment, terrorizing the civilian population and forcible transfer were committed."

I don't know all the circumstances of the trial. Maybe 18 years was fitting in this particular case. But in a larger sense, none of the sentences this tribunal metes out are suitable for the slaughter of thousands of innocent people.

Problem No. 1: The United Nations rejects the death penalty. Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has had little to fear in his trial on 66 charges, including crimes against humanity. He has used it as a stage to publicly ridicule adversaries and the court — secure in the knowledge that the worst that can happen to him is that he'll get a life sentence, without parole, if the court is in a hanging mood, along with good medical care and protection from the thousands of Bosnian Muslims who lost loved ones during the carnage and would like to kill him.

Problem No. 2: "The court feels like it has to allocate the punishments based on the degree of responsibility," explained Beth Van Schaack, who teaches international law at Santa Clara University School of Law. "So individuals high on the chain of command, who are giving the orders, the highest sentences are being reserved for them." That means: If the worst Slobo can get is life without parole, his generals will get a lesser sentence, and their lieutenants should face even shorter sentences. In the United States, all the top guns would get the top sentence. But thanks to our Betters in Europe and their rigid demand for proportion, a top aide who orders the murder of thousands can expect to serve less than life without parole, because you weren't king. The Hague's longest sentence to date — for genocide — was reduced from 46 years, and an appellate court reduced it to 35 years. As a result, prosecutors won't ask for a sentence exceeding 35 years for any killer of lower rank, even a colonel. How exquisitely fair.

And supremely foolish.

Van Schaack said this system guaranteed "higher sentences for the true architects."

If so, it also assures henchmen that they can butcher families and serve as little as three years.

Nina Bang-Jensen, of the Coalition for International Justice in Washington, believes the court does good work in bringing to light the atrocities so that they will not be forgotten. She noted, "Keep in mind that before these trials, or before Nuremberg, you were much more likely to find yourself in jail if you murdered one person than if you killed 10,000." Good point. (To the extent that the tribunal punishes strongmen and tells the story that muted voices cannot, it does good work.)

But when the tribunal trivializes the murder of thousands, it sends the wrong message. The Hague's emphasis on genocide transforms the very personal act of murder into an impersonal act of politics. It changes the focus from the faces of the victims to the frame of mind of the perpetrators. Indeed, the court rulings care more about what the defendants thought than what they did.

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European justice is an oxymoron. It's more about the judges, and their need to be painstakingly fair, than the victims. It's more about thought than action. Abraham D. Sofaer of the Hoover Institution summed it up: "The international human rights community tends to view me, because I favor capital punishment for people who commit genocide, as a monster, just as they see (the man who commits genocide) as a monster." Sofaer added, "They have neutered international law. It doesn't have any moral force any more, the way it should. "

Memo to the tribunal: You guys are so busy being fair, you forgot justice.

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© 2005, Creators Syndicate