26 may 2011, mladić

The bosnian war was still raging when I first travelled to former yugoslavia; and it was not long ended when I visited the war crimes tribunal, state of the art in the long arm of international justice for the most terrible crimes. Slowly, the key perpetrators of the worst atrocities that are usual guts of war, have been brought to the hague's serene proceedings to have their actions dissected and exposed: milošević, karadžić and now mladić. The tribunal lit the way to the permanent criminal court and is the high watermark so far of the value and virtue of peace and justice through international law, and one of the most lasting achievements of the united nations. Mladić was not gunned down by special forces, but was captured and will be tried, sentenced and punished, exposing to all how actions taken today can be recreated tommorow, and exposing in the cruellest light what historically is usually buried with the corpses. There were perhaps 100,000 of those, in bosnia alone, in a war taking place barely 100 miles from where I lived at the time in budapest, in europe. Fire, murder, systematic rape, ethnic cleansing and massacre were norms of policy there, as sarajevo, a city for hundreds of years the epicentre of tolerance in the balkans was shelled to destruction. Shell the muslim neighbourhoods mladić told his commander, until the people are driven mad, bomb the presidency and the parliament, destroy the hospitals, snipe the children and the market place. By srebrenica, mladić had a militia that without hesitation could systematically empty a place of its male population, gun them down in their hundreds, pile their corpses high in vans and dump them in mass graves. Then, europe and the rest of the world just looked on, seeing nothing and doing less, the modern-day equivalent of elie wiesel's onlooker, who watched the courtyard of budapest's great synagogue fill and empty for days, "The hungarian police were very cruel but I don't remember their faces... the one face I completely remember was his... he stared out of the window expressionlessly. There was neither compassion nor joy, neither shock nor rage. He wasn't even interested in what was going on... He was neither murderer nor victim; he was only a bystander. He wanted to live in peace and quiet". It may be far too little, far too late, but if it saves one life by making one man person pause for thought about the consequences of their actions, then the last 20 years work at the tribunal were surely worth it.