Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
Weeks before a parliamentary election in Kosovo that could decide the course of democratic reforms there, the European Union is struggling to decide whether to offer Pristina encouragement or reproach.
The country, a former breakaway province of Serbia, is the poorest and smallest in the Balkans and riddled with problems. Unemployment rates are near 50 percent, state institutions are weak and per capita income is just $2,500 — one of the lowest in Europe. Five EU members do not even recognise it as a state. Yet it may also hold the key to stability in a region marked by decades of ethnic conflict.
On the whole, Brussels has a clear policy towards Kosovo. It says Pristina could become an EU member, but only when ready. Exactly what steps are needed to push it along the path towards membership, and when, are the subject of debate.
The most pressing discussion in Brussels now is whether to begin talks with Pristina about visa-free travel: from the middle of December, citizens of Kosovo will be the only ones in the western Balkans who need a visa to travel to the EU.
from Tales from the Trail:
Hillary Clinton stopped on Bill Clinton Boulevard to view one of Kosovo's main attractions: the Bill Clinton Statue.
Clinton, on her first visit to Kosovo as secretary of state, on Wednesday received a rapturous welcome from the crowd waving U.S. flags and cheering on the Clinton Brand, which many Kosovars see as key to their country's independence.
The message to Serbia from Brussels is clear: swallow your pride and start talking to Kosovo. Without strong evidence that Belgrade is mending ties with its former province, the message goes on, Serbia’s pathway to European Union entry will be rocky, if not blocked entirely.
Quietly, EU diplomats warn that Serbia must tread carefully on the issue. Since the International Court of Justice ruled last week that Kosovo’s 2008 secession was legal, the province is gone from Serbia for good, they caution.
Protesters staged large demonstrations in Western capitals 10 years ago to urge governments to intervene to stop Serb forces killing civilians in Kosovo.Despite having no United Nations mandate, NATO went to war for the first time and bombed Serbia for 11 weeks to stop what it called the Yugoslav army’s disproportionate use of force in its offensive against separatist ethnic Albanian guerrillas.”We have a moral duty,” said then NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana as bombers took off on March 24, 1999 to “bring an end to the humanitarian catastrophe”.The intervention helped launch a doctrine of international “Responsibility to Protect” civilians in conflicts. Advocates of “R2P” proposed humanitarian intervention in Myanmar in 2007 and military force in Zimbabwe in 2008.But it never happened and the likelihood of this doctrine being adopted universally now in a UN declaration is slim, as was shown by the Gaza war that began two months ago.On Dec. 27, Israeli bombers went into action over Gaza. As reports of civilian deaths grew, protesters staged rallies in Western capitals to demand leaders act to end the offensive against Islamist Hamas militants in the Palestinian enclave.Critics accused Israel of using “disproportionate” force, just as many said Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic had done.But intervention in Gaza was impossible politically and militarily unimaginable. Unlike Serbia, Israel is not seen in the West as a rogue state and widescale ethnic cleansing was not under way in Gaza.Solana visited the enclave on Friday as foreign policy chief of the European Union, which seeks to foster peace in the Middle East through “soft power” — diplomacy and aid, not intervention of the kind he advocated as head of the NATO alliance.NATO never embraced the “responsibility to protect” concept, arguing that Kosovo, which most allies have subsequently recognised as an independent state, was a unique case that should not set a precedent.Soft power may eventually mean encouraging talks with Hamas — which is now shunned by the West. In an open letter published this week, a group of former foreign ministers urged a change in that policy, saying peace depends on talking to the militants.But with rockets from Gaza again being fired daily into Israel, the prospect of a breakthrough soon seems bleak as right-wing prime minister designate Benjamin Netanyahu tries to form a government.Viewing war damage in Gaza on Friday, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store spoke of “senseless destruction.” He blamed Hamas for starting the conflict, but said Israel’s response “goes beyond what international law allows.”Serb forces in the 1998-99 Kosovo war ignored the idea of “proportionality” on the battlefield. They were sure no army would willingly tie its own hands in the face of insurgency. They mortared, burned and raided “guerrilla” villages to driveoff civilians and deprive the rebels of cover.On Thursday, the U.N. tribunal in The Hague sentenced two Serbian generals to 22 years in jail for war crimes in Kosovo. Serbia handed them over under Western pressure.Israel openly assured its soldiers during the Gaza offensive that they would not face such prosecution. Discussing tactics for a future conflict, one senior Israeli general also dismissed “proportionality” as a deterrent.”We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction,” said Northern Command chief Gadi Eisenkot.”This isn’t a suggestion. This is a plan that has been authorised,” he told daily Yedioth Ahronoth ast October.Defending Israel’s action in Gaza, President Shimon Peres reminded NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer that NATO’s own bombing of Serbia killed “hundreds of civilians”.Prime Minister Ehud Olmert mocked the idea that he should ask soldiers to fight an evenly-matched battle in which a few hundred might be killed simply to win international approval for a war in which Hamas was fighting in heavily populated areas.But scholars of international law say proportionality does not mean a “fair fight” or balanced death toll, let alone making sure no civilian dies. It requires belligerents to use weapons that distinguish civilians from military targets and combatants.According to Gaza figures — which Israel says are suspect– some 600 of 1,300 Palestinians killed in Gaza were civilians. Of 13 Israelis killed during the 22-day war, 10 were soldiers.Human Rights Watch, the U.N. Human Rights Council, Amnesty International, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Israeli rights group B’Tselem have called for investigations.
Radovan Karadzic has finally appeared in public without his disguise for the first time in more than a decade. The former Bosnian Serb leader looked gaunt after 11 years on the run as he stood before a judge at a United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
Some media commentators said he was a shadow of his former self but there were still signs of defiance from the man who defied the West for so long during the 1992-95 Bosnia war. Some said his performance brought back memories of the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, the former Serbian leader who died in detention in 2006 before his trial at The Hague ended.
The extradition of former Bosnian Serb
leader Radovan Karadzic on Wednesday to
face genocide charges in The Hague sends
a signal that the international community
means business in bringing fugitives to
Reinforcing the same message,
Serge Brammertz, chief prosecutor
of the International Criminal Tribunal
for the former Yugoslavia, called again
for the arrest of Bosnian Serb wartime
commander Ratko Mladic. Like Karadzic,
Mladic is accused of genocide over the
43-month siege of Sarajevo and the 1995
massacre of some 8,000 Muslims at
The capture of Radovan Karadzic
after 11 years on the run is likely
to improve Serbia’s chances of joining
the European Union and enhance the
new government’s credentials with EU
leaders. It also gives ordinary Serbs hope
of a better life, 17 years after the start of
the wars that preceded the break-up of
Karadzic wanted Serb areas of Bosnia to be linked to a greater
Serbia at a time when Slobodan Milosevic was fanning nationalism in
Serbia. When I first met him in November 1990, he was already
warning of civil war because of what he saw as a conspiracy against
Serbs in multi-ethnic Bosnia.
He still has some die-hard supporters in Serbia but
otherwise there is little sympathy for the man facing genocide
charges over the deaths of about 100,000 people in the siege of
Sarajevo and 8,000 Muslims in the Bosnian town of
Srebrenica during the war.
The U.S.-brokered Dayton peace agreement ended the war
without a clear winner, dividing the country into two
ethnic-based halves — the Muslim-Croat federation and the Serb
Republic, which have co-existed in an uneasy alliance since.
Karadzic’s arrest sets the stage for a major trial at the
International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia,
created 15 years ago to prosecute war crimes committed during
the 1992-95 Bosnia war. Milosevic, his former ally, went on
trial at the ICTY on genocide charges but died in 2003 before
the end of the trial.
Avril McDonald, an associate lecturer at Groningen
University and a specialist on the tribunal’s proceedings, says
the Office of the Prosecutor will need to deliver a speedy and
efficient trial as the tribunal faces a deadline to wrap up
proceedings within the next couple of years. “The trial
doesn’t need to last more than a year,” McDonald said.
“They will try to get a conviction quickly.”
During Milosevic’s four-year trial, prosecutors called
nearly 300 witnesses and the annual budget at times ran to more
than $270 million. Milosevic chose to defend himself and used
the tribunal as a platform to advance his political views and
Critics fear Karadzic could do the same. Costs will be high.
But the arrest and trial offers many individuals a chance of
some closure on a bloody chapter in their personal lives. It
also represents an opportunity for Serbia to finally move on
after a violent period of recent history.
“They can now begin to put the past behind them and move
forward towards Europe,” said Paddy Ashdown, who for almost four
years was peace overseer in Bosnia.
On Friday I wrote that the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor was readying a genocide charge and arrest warrant for Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. It came to pass today. A defiant Khartoum has said it will not bend to the court and has warned of an eruption of violence; the opposition too has said the warrant could threaten peace. Is this a case of justice versus peace and do the two have to be irreconcilable?
Here’s Friday’s blog:
Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court are readying arrest warrants for senior Sudanese officials, possibly even President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, sources at The Hague court have told Reuters. The Washington Post said it understood Bashir would face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.