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News and Current Affairs
United Nations or Not: from 9 September 2003
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United nationd or not?


Richard Holbrooke


Well when I was ambassador to Germany in 1993 I didn't see, it wasn't immediately apparent to me how incredibly valuable the International War Crimes tribunal process would be as a device for both resolving conflicts and for the absolute critical truth and reconciliation process that follows. That only became apparent to me when President Clinton brought me back o Washington to take over the Bosnia negotiations and then I realised that the War Crimes Tribunal was a huge valuable tool. We used it to keep the two most wanted war criminals in Europe - Karadic and Milodic out of the Deayton peace process and we used it to justify everything that followed.

Did that not make things more difficult sometimes because there were people who would not talk to you because they would be locked up?

Well first of all there were always people in the US government and elsewhere who thought the whole thing was a charade, even empty cosmetics, theatre or inhibition to a clean negotiation. But while at times somebody would have been indicted with whom it would have been useful to negotiate, in the final analysis this was a valuable process.

Was there any sense of this being a compromise between peace and justice in the way it was pursued after Dayton, after the Dayton accords because no-one, or the big ones still havn't been caught?

It's so interesting that you use the words peace and justice because it triggers a vivid memory in my mind. At the final critical moment, one minute to midnight in effect, in the negotiations at Dayton, we presented to President Izetbegoviic of Bosnia the latest concession of Milosevic. And said to him, "we have to decide now. There are 800 journalists waiting for the press conference. We have a failure statement ready. Here's Milosevic's newest concession." And Izetbegoviic listened, and there was a long pause, and he said "it is not just, but my people need peace." I thought my heart was going to stop. And he said "ok, let's do it". So Izetbegoviic used the same phrase you did, peace and justice. Now how you reconcile the two? If you bury the past it can come up out of the muck of history and bite you again. And if you seek absolute vengeance you can't reconcile a society. You know the more I watch these tragic post conflict periods, the clearer it is to me that the truth and reconciliation model is essential. You must expose the truth. You must secure the gravesites whether it is in Kosovo or Iraq or Sierra Leone. You must find out what happened, you must publish it and then you must seek a way of reconciliation. This will never be done by the International Criminal Court. It can only be done by local truth and reconciliation commissions that can take into account local circumstances and what worked in South Africa might not work in the same way in Yugoslavia or Iraq but the concept is correct.

What's your response to the idea that the court is the victor's justice?

Well there wasn't a clear winner in Yugoslavia. There were a lot of losers - everyone lost. The Bosnian Muslims lost 300 thousand dead, two and a half million homeless. Milosovic lost his job and ended up in a well-padded cell at the Hague. The only group that really gained much at that process was Croatia so I am not sure what you mean by victors justice. There was no unconditional surrender. In Iraq it is too early to tell but the winner was the US led coalition but I don't see any evidence of victors justice so far so I am not sure what you mean.

Well I suppose what it leads to is the question of whether it wouldn't be better to have an international criminal court independent of the kind that has been talked about which the United States has withdrawn from because that would avoid any accusation . . .

Well there is an international . . (But America is not playing a part in it) That's between its advocates and the administration. I am not part of that debate.

You don't have a view on that?

My views are complicated because I believe the concept is a good one but the details of this particular structure are flawed. I worked at the UN as ambassador for a while, for several years, and I admire and support the international organisations. However, I have also seen them hijacked and politicised and I would not like to see a situation where a politicised international criminal court could do the same things that the UN general assembly sometimes does which is vote empty resolutions, vote empty indictments of the President of the United States because of the bombing and Iraq. Or indict an American general carrying out his instructions. And I would think that the British who have been our staunchest allies, friends and participants ought to have some of the same concerns. Some of the objections of the American conservatives are wildly exaggerated but I also wouldn't want them to see them indict the prime minister of Israel and so I am kind of leery of a process which doesn't have enough due process in it.

Do you think that that tension over the court is a reflection of the wider tensions within the United Nations as a whole of how you, how the institutions deal with the fact that you have got this single overwhelmingly powerful superpower?

Absolutely, you are absolutely right. The ICC has become one of the many arenas of the struggle to deal with the disproportionate power of the US which in the case of the Bush administration has been exercised in a way which is wildly and understandably offensive to many other countries in the world. This administration seems to take almost a perverse pleasure in aggravating many of our oldest allies from France and Germany to South Korea. And I don't understand that because it is unnecessary because leadership as Winston Churchill always said 'In victory magnanimity' and this administration keeps saying Winston Churchill is their role model. They don't seem to understand what he stood for.

You were part, you were at the heart really of a development of a much more assertive American foreign policy, one much more willing to use force on grounds of principle, not just of national interest some people would argue. You say that at the beginning you didn't really see the importance of a system of courts and international justice.

Are you saying while I was in Germany

Mmmn. But then thereafter . . .

As soon as I got involved in the issue I saw its value.

I am just interest to know how you see that developing. How far you see the question of international justice becoming part of that generally more assertive American foreign policy?

You know the more I watch these tragic post conflict periods, the clearer it is to me that the truth and reconciliation model is essential. You must expose the truth. You must secure he gravesites whether it is in Kosovo or Iraq or Sierra Leone. You must find out what happened, you must publish it and then you must seek a way of reconciliation. Because otherwise the issue, well let's take Iraq. Is every person who worked for the Government in Iraq complicit. Is every postal clerk, every school teacher, every garbage collector? Of course not. On the other hand you don't want to leave the Ba'athists in power. That's like leaving the Nazis in power. Getting to the heart of it is incredibly complicated. This will never be done by the International Criminal Court . It can only be done by local truth and reconciliation commissions that can take into account local circumstances and what worked in South Africa might not work in the same way in Yugoslavia or Iraq but the concept is correct. Amnesty across the border is wrong and a total search for all the the . . well Rwanda is another perfect example, in fact Rwanda is one of the most interesting example because there are local courts to deal with the genocidere, the people who committed the genocide.

But that is the key is it? It is not a question of having some supranational, international body. It has got to be done by the countries themselves?

The International Criminal Court is a very useful tool to go after the Pol Pots and the Saddam Hussein's of the world but will they? Will they? Why was there never a criminal court in Cambodia for what we all agree was the worst crime against humanity? Self genocide in effect? I think primarily because the Chinese didn't want one. Why haven't the generals in Burma been brought to account. Why is the whole issue about the International Criminal Court about America. All over the world there are these dreadful high level crooks. The International Criminal Court can go after them. But you talked about victors justice. Victors justice is a question of cleansing corrupt regimes. Milosovic went to the Hague but the mafioso criminal structure he left behind was still there and killed Prime Minister Djindjic , assassinated him.




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United Nations or not?
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