Two of the most notorious war crimes suspects in recent history were arrested yesterday.
Website headlines glow with news of Serbian authorities arresting former Bosnian Serb military commender Ratko Mladic at his home in Serbia. Police found Mladic, who faces charges of genocide in ordering the killing of at least 7,500 unarmed civilians during the Bosnian War, at home under an assumed name. To some surprise, he cooperatively climbed into the police car and accepted his all expenses paid ticket to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
Meanwhile, a Congolese Army unit patrolling North Kivu with a tracking team from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda hunted down and captured Bernard Munyagishari. The Rwandan former militia commander led, trained, and instructed Interhamwe units of the Gisenye region as they sought to eliminate ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus during the Rwandan Civil War. Munyagishari had command authority over forces which killed tens of thousands.
Like, Mladic, indictments accuse Munyagishari of genocide. While Mladic allegedly ordered troops to machine gun men and boys eligible of joining opposing forces during the Bosnian War, Munyagishari’s case includes an allegation that during the Rwandan War he ordered men to kill not only civilians standing in their way, but to lay siege to churches where women and children sought refuge, to rape, and to kill every soul inside.
Over the past two decades since the Rwandan and Bosnian Wars even the most idealistic crusaders for post-war justice have caught themselves lamenting that it was probably more likely for a killer of one to see court than a killer of thousands. Justice pioneers poured epic amounts of time, energy, and creativity into building the International Criminal Court, tribunals, hybrid courts, and suspect tracking teams. But the global effort to seek justice for war crimes ultimately got slowed down by local government.
Today President Tadic of Serbia and President Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo have proved that it may take time for post-war governments to re-calibrate their moral compasses, revise their law books, and rebuild mutual trust with the international community but with patience and the right kind of pressure, partnerships in justice can prevail. The prized moment here is not only when Mladic or Munyagishari finally arrive at court, but when new, potential war criminals read the news and think twice about killing.
(To learn more about how government leaders build solidarity with each other to prevent genocide, check out the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. To learn more about specific cases, check out the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and the International Criminal Court. Explore post-war justice, truth, and reconciliation projects at the International Center for Transitional Justice.)
Photo: Ratko Mladic (right) meeting with Radovan Karadzic during the Bosnian War (Open Democracy).