It was a spark of light from the darkness of human rights violations, horrific war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and ethnic cleansing that caused the suffering, torture, starvation and mass murder of thousands. That spark of light was the conviction and sentence to life imprisonment of Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb commander known as the “butcher of Bosnia” by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands last Wednesday 22 November 2017.
It came more than twenty years after the massacre at Srebrenica in the former Yugoslavia. When the verdict of conviction and sentence was read out there was relief and satisfaction for the surviving relatives of more than 8,000 men and boys murdered on the orders of the then General Ratko Mladic. They never forgot and they pursued justice to the end.
He led a murderous mission as head of the Serb forces that were killing Muslim civilians to “purify” the Serbian nation. When the Serbian forces were defeated by an international coalition, Mladic went into hiding for 14 years. The international community worked to find him and enforce the arrest warrant issued by the ICC and while Mladic was hailed as a “hero” in Serbia by his devoted and fanatical followers, justice finally caught up with him. He cursed and raged in the courtroom last week while the verdict was read out. That did him no good. He got a life sentence after five years of trial and 600 witnesses gave testimony against him and he will likely die in prison. So it should be for all mass murderers waging any kind of war.
“They will not escape justice, no matter how powerful they may be nor how long it may take. They will be held accountable,” the United Nations Commissioner on Human Rights said of all mass murderers after the verdict was handed down. There are still many who committed terrible crimes against humanity and served shorter sentences and now are released. Others were never brought to trial. They participated in those awful crimes in Bosnia, one of the worst atrocities since World War II.
The world has many similar tyrants and mass murderers and justice is denied the countless victims. The ICC can only go after a tiny fraction of the perpetrators. Perhaps the worst atrocities we see daily on television is the present “ethnic cleansing” and abuse going on in Myanmar where Pope Francis has made a speech that called for justice and equality for all ethnic groups but did not mention by name, for diplomatic reasons, the most oppressed of all, the Rohingya. He will when he gives his speech in Bangladesh.
The murder of children, the mass killing of men and women and the burning of villages of the Rohingya by the military and fanatical Buddhists are horrific crimes against humanity allegedly condoned by the Myanmar Army High Command. They deny all accusations. The murder of infants and the use of rape as a weapon against the Rohingya have been authentically witnessed and recorded A report in the New York Times said:
“Survivors said they saw government soldiers stabbing babies, cutting off boys’ heads, gang-raping girls, shooting 40-millimeter grenades into houses, burning entire families to death, and rounding up dozens of unarmed male villagers and summarily executing them.”
More than 640,000 have fled into Bangladesh.
The ICC will have a lot to investigate and bring charges against the perpetrators of these crimes. According to the record of the ICC as published on Wikipedia the ICC “has opened investigations into 11 situations:
(1) the Democratic Republic of the Congo;
(3) the Central African Republic I;
(4) Darfur, Sudan;
(5) the Kenya;
(7) Côte d’Ivoire;
(9) the Central African Republic II;
(10) Georgia; and
The ICC has publicly indicted 41 people. The ICC has issued arrest warrants for 33 individuals and summonses to eight others. Seven persons are in detention. Proceedings against 23 are ongoing: 12 are at large as fugitives, three are under arrest but not in the Court's custody, eight are at trial, and one is appealing his conviction. Proceedings against 17 have been completed: three have been convicted, one has been acquitted, six have had the charges against them dismissed, two have had the charges against them withdrawn, one has had his case declared inadmissible, and four have died before trial.”
Most of the accused are from Africa and that’s why Burundi has withdrawn its membership to the court. It says the court is biased. That will not stop the ongoing cases against the accused in that country. The work of the court is very complicated. The need to find witnesses, protect them and catch the fugitives. It is no easy task but if it is to maintain its credibility it has to show a more robust action to bring more to the justice of the court and to speed up the proceedings and win more convictions.
After the atrocities and extermination policy of the Nazis in WWII, it was a cry “never again” that initiated the Nuremberg War trials but today the atrocities and mass killing continue and the perpetrators can get away with these crimes. The conscience of the international community and that of every citizen must be awakened and each must take a stand against the crimes and work for justice. The ICC, weak as it is, is all we have got.
Rev. Shay Cullen is a co-founder of PREDA.org -- a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the welfare of children.