Wednesday, 1 June 2011

War Crimes

The British press is all over the fact that Ratko Mladic has been taken to the Hague to face accusations of war crimes committed during the Bosnian war.  Apparently he had been on the run for 16 years and had been finally apprehended, coincidentally, when Serbia was told that his arrest would be a condition for consideration of Serbia joining the European Union.  Why Serbia would want to join the EU is beyond me, but that's not the point.

The fact that Mladic has to answer for his actions during that brutal war is fair enough.  He was the Bosnian-Serb commander at the time when paramilitaries and regular troops were fighting for the Bosnian-Serb cause.  In the end, the actions of the men serving him must fall on his shoulders, such is the price of leadership.

What I cannot understand, though, is the intensity of the negative reporting about the man.  I served in Bosnia in both 1995, 1996 and 1997.  I was in Sarajevo when 122mm rounds were falling all around us and I know it was the Bosnian-Serbs or the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS).  The Serbs were fighting for their survival, as well as the Bosnian Croats and Muslims.  The UN and NATO had regular meetings with Mladic and I met him several times while the Dayton agreement was being ironed out.  He was what I would call a hard man, a man who had seen things and done things that no man should have to.  You have to remember, it was a three sided war and all parties involved did some horrific things.

I am not condoning anything that was done in his name or anything that he may have done or ordered himself.  I am merely questioning the media frenzy surrounding his arrest and subsequent extradition.

It is a well known fact that there is no love lost between the US and the Serbs.  I know, as a fact, that the Americans I served with held the Serbs in low regard whilst supporting the plight of the Bosnian Muslims.  Historically, the British and the Serbs have been allies and the British tend to be pro-Serbian.  I, personally, held the Serbs in higher regard of the three factions, as I believed them to be more professional.  The Serbs, however, didn't do themselves any favours during the war, tending to deal with matters on their own while the other factions made very good use of the media in spreading propaganda.

My time in Bosnia opened my eyes to the real horrors of ethnic disputes.  All of the factions in Bosnia were guilty of horrific crimes, many of which will remain untold for years to come.  One of my functions whilst serving over there was to collect evidence for the War Crimes tribunal.  Needless to say, I was exposed to the unimaginable things that man can do to one another.

Mladic will face the court and will, no doubt, be sentenced in due course.  His men, or men fighting for the VRS, did many things that need accounting for.  It's a pity that they cannot be tried individually because not all of the brutal activity was organised or ordered.  It was, in some cases, a war of opportunity, where men from one faction or another would wander into an area populated by another and they would react like rabid animals.  Mladic and his opposite numbers (the commanders of the other factions) must answer for those crimes too.

My one hope is that people see this trial objectively.  Not the people who were actually involved; that would be too much to ask of them.  I mean the rest of the world, who weren't there and did not see what was actually happening at the time.  Mladic is one part of the history of Bosnia Herzegovina, but a part that should be considered in context with the others.  There is no doubt that if he is guilty of crimes against humanity then he should be punished, as those who ordered the murders of any of the Bosnian population at the time should be punished.  The media should bear that in mind before they spout off sound bites that attract attention.

The media should also take a close look at themselves as they aren't as innocent as they may think they are.  During the war in Bosnia, the media reports did more damage than good and the crews themselves caused incidents that could have been avoided.

Bosnia Herzegovina was a terrible time in mankind's history.  It's amazing how little we learned from the atrocities of the second world war.


  1. excellent insights offered here, thank you. However, I am NEVER surprised at media frenzy. They are selling stories and the more sensational, the higher the sales. Justice, impartiality and common sense do not prevail before the footfall of the hack. Ethics is not taught well, if at all, at media school methinks.

  2. I agree. Their search for a good story tends to have consequences which they appear ignorant to. I tried to avoid the media as much as possible.