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10 May 1996

Show Trial Opens in Hague

Tom Edwards explains why the 'war crimes' trial of Dusko Tadic is a propaganda exercise designed to shore up the authority of the great powers over the rest of the world.

The first international war crimes trial in Europe since Nuremberg opened to a media circus on Tuesday 8 May. Dusko Tadic, a Bosnian Serb cafe-owner has been singled out to join Hitler's deputies Hermann Goering and Rudolf Hess as the barbarians of the century.

Grant Nieman opened the case for the prosecution by arguing that 'when it is the state that commits the crime, then the community of nations must judge. Otherwise evil knows no bounds.' However, the case that Tadic acted on behalf of the Serb Republic in Bosnia is slender. Tadic was neither a soldier nor a prison camp guard, holding only the office of part-time policeman. He has been singled out to be the first citizen of the former Yugoslavia to stand trial for war crimes only because he was the first to be arrested. He was the first to be arrested because he had moved to Germany to set up a karate school, under his own name - hardly the act of a desperate war criminal.

The Serb Republic have asked that any evidence of crime should be passed on to them so that its citizens can be made answerable where there is a case against them. But the intent of the war crimes tribunal is not to try any one Serb, but to try the Serbs as a whole. Sitting in judgement of Dusko Tadic is a propaganda exercise designed to paint the Serbs in the worst light.

In keeping with a propaganda trial the evidence against Tadic is supplied by media moguls like the Guardian Newspaper, Independent Television News and Newsday magazine - all of whom campaigned vociferously for Western intervention against the Serbs.

Not only will the trial evidence make it seem that 'Serbs are war-criminals', but the very fact of trying Tadic in the international court will make a moral point: 'The Serbs cannot be trusted to act in accordance with ordinary norms of civilised behaviour, so West European judges and prosecutors will have to try Tadic'.

Prosecutor Nieman was lying when he said that 'the community of nations must judge' when 'it is the state commits the crime'. The prosecutors office of the International War Crimes tribunal has made it very clear that there is a double standard when it comes to punishing war crimes. On 5 July 1995 they said that 'As a political organ of the United Nations, the Security Council is not called upon to repress serious violations of international humanitarian law on a consistent and uniform legal basis' (Prosecutor's response to the defence's motion filed on 23 June 1995, p 28, Dusko Tadic Case No IT94-I-T). In other words war crimes will only be punished if the voting members of UN Security Council decides that it is expedient.

The United States government clarified the point that Western war crimes are beyond criticism, while those imputed to the West's enemies will be punished. They said 'It is unconvincing to suggest that the Security Council's failure to take similar action with respect to conflicts of past decades in Korea, Vietnam, Algeria, Cambodia and the Belgian Congo somehow stops it from acting now' (Amicus Curae Brief Presented by the government of the United States of America, p 18, Dusko Tadic Case No IT94-I-T).

What is unconvincing is the idea that the Security Council's partisan decision about what constitutes a war crime and what does not was nothing more than a 'failure', as if it had just slipped their minds. It is unlikely that the United Nations will seek to lay charges of war crimes against the Israeli Defence Forces for their missile attack on the UN refugee camp at Qana in the southern Lebanon - the United States has promised to veto any action against its ally Israel on the security council. The decision as to who is to be dubbed a war criminal and who is not is, as the prosecutors office of the Tribunal says 'political', not a question of justice.
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