Francis Hoar is a Barrister who writes on constitutional affairs and law reform in legal journals and on politics on his own blog. He is also the author of a chapter on a British Bill of Rights in The State of Civil Liberties in Modern Britain.
The arrest and extradition of Ratko Mladic, during Nato’s intervention in a conflict justified by a doctrine Mladic’s crimes helped encourage, is an opportunity for reflection on the uneasy balance between international justice and humanitarian protection.
These two principles are the lasting legacy of the Yugoslav conflicts on which, in most other respects, the West can look back only with shame. From 1991 it was apparent that the Serbian-led rump of the Yugoslav Federation would stop at nothing to prevail in its plans for a Greater Serbia. In that year, Yugoslav troops entered Croatia, ostensibly to protect its Krajinan Serb minority, and embarked on a savage campaign against the civilians of Vukovar, leading to a massacre of 264 civilians in a hospital. The support of militias by the Yugoslav Army was to be a feature of the Yugoslav Wars up until the Kosovan conflict in 1999, one that was widely reported from the start.
Yet the leaders of the West did nothing. Inaction and hand wringing preceded the imposition of an arms embargo not on the Yugoslav rump but on all territories of the former Yugoslavia. This embargo continued as Mladic – a Yugoslav Army general – was shelling the civilians of Sarajevo, a crime described in a subsequent war crimes prosecution as “an episode of such notoriety in the conflict in the former Yugoslavia that one must go back to World War II to find a parallel in European history. Not since then had a professional army conducted a campaign of unrelenting violence against the inhabitants of a European city so as to reduce them to a state of medieval deprivation in which they were in constant fear of death.”