Looking forward, looking back

The eventual arrest and appearance in court in Serbia today of Ratko Mladić does indeed put a bookmark in the pages of history.

Looking forward, the lesson is clear that justice does – eventually – catch up with war criminals. The survivors of Srebrenica can look forward to justice being served on the part of loved ones casually murdered by Mladić’s troops – and to rape as a weapon of war getting a full examination in court. Serbia can look forward to claiming its place in European political structures and we can anticipate the anti-war aims of the original European Union claiming further territory albeit, in this case, twenty years too late to be of practical use to Yugoslavians.

Whatever the suspicions over the timing of the arrest, the last of the official, unofficial and private support structures that had sustained Mladić over fifteen years on the run had clearly fallen away. He might appear weak and unrecognisable as a result of an apparent stroke – but his adopted name, and his place of residence, hardly provided concealment (unlike, for example, the disguise adopted by Karadžić). Here, the conclusions of the investigation promised by Serbian President Boris Tadić will be interesting. There is an interest in bringing Mladić quickly to justice and, once the legal debates over his extradition have been observed, the court prosecutors at the ICTY clearly need to move quickly given Mladić’s apparently poor state of health. We don’t want another Milošević.

Karadžić’s repeated assertion today about working with Mladić’s legal team to ‘bring out the truth’ of what happened in Bosnia is one to anticipate. Foreign Secretary Hague’s warm words today were welcome, but he should not forget that the equivocation displayed by one of his predecessors in the post over a period of time was an unconscionable act of betrayal which gave a green light to Mladić and the rest of the Bosnian Serbs and which resulted in the Bosnian government accusing Hurd of being an accomplice to genocide. Britain’s Unfinest Hour, indeed.