If you saw the grainy footage of Saddam Hussein being brutally hanged on December 30, 2006, amid the taunts of his political enemies, "international justice" is probably not the first thought that came to mind. "Tribal vendetta" is a more likely guess. More than sixty years ago, the need to avoid vendettas was one of the factors behind the establishment of an international military tribunal at Nuremberg to judge Nazis accused of war crimes. The Nuremberg tribunal has since served as a model of sorts for the handful of international tribunals created by the United Nations in the past two decades to judge people accused of committing war crimes in Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. In July 2002 the International Criminal Court, a permanent tribunal responsible for trying cases of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, opened its doors.
A few months earlier, Slobodan Milosevic had appeared before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague on the charge of genocide, becoming the only former head of state to be tried for crimes against humanity by such a tribunal. He accused the court of being a tool of realpolitik wielded by major Western powers; Western officials have routinely dismissed such allegations as conspiracy theories. They will have a much harder time making that argument with Florence Hartmann, a former official at the ICTY, who in Paix et châtiment: Les guerres secrètes de la politique et de la justice internationales (Peace and Punishment: The Secret Wars of Politics and International Justice), published in September in France, describes how the ICTY has been hampered not only by the predictable obstruction of Balkan governments but also by the meddling hands of its main sponsors–France, Britain and the United States. Hartmann openly accuses them of sabotaging the court's work by infiltrating its personnel, withholding key evidence and failing to arrest two of its main indictees–Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic–for more than a decade.
Hartmann argues that France, Britain and the United States have obstructed the court in order to avert the public disclosure, during the course of a trial, of their failure to prevent the violent implosion of Yugoslavia and, more egregious, despite ominous warning signs, the July 1995 Serbian-led massacre of an estimated 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica. Hartmann's claim is not new, but her evidence is. As such, the book raises serious questions about whether Western leaders–including members of the Clinton Administration, who justified US intervention in the Bosnian war on humanitarian grounds (a justification invoked, in turn, by politicians and journalists of various political stripes who backed the invasion of Iraq)–failed in their legal duty to prevent crimes against humanity. Hartmann's allegations of obstruction and sabotage are based on the UN-sponsored 1948 Convention on Genocide, which obliges all signatories (of which the United States is one) to do their utmost to prevent such crimes from occurring. A few months after Srebrenica, Karadzic, the political leader of the Bosnian Serbs, and Mladic, the commander of the Bosnian Serb Army, were indicted by the ICTY on charges of genocide for their role in the massacre. Milosevic was indicted on similar charges in 1999, and the ICTY formally declared Srebrenica a genocide in a 2001 ruling.