The Return of Frankie and The Iceman

New trials for Balkan war criminals are set to reopen old wounds – and may expose Washington’s secret role

For the last 24 years, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, based in The Hague, has attempted to mete out justice to those accused of war crimes in the ugly conflicts which engulfed Southeastern Europe from 1991 to 1999. The track record of this UN-mandated court, termed the ICTY for short (said as ick-tee by Balkan cognoscienti) can be fairly assessed as mixed.

It’s put some certified bad guys behind bars – most infamously Slobodan Milošević, Serbia’s longtime president and the preeminent architect of the Balkan nightmares of the 1990s, who died in ICTY custody in 2006 before his trial was completed – but there have been plenty of missteps too. Back in 2012-13, several prominent Balkan war criminals who had been convicted by the ICTY after extended and expensive trials were released on appeal, leading to awkward questions about the tribunal’s practical effectiveness.

The court has faced doubters from the start, including those who suspect the ICTY’s less-than-even-handed justice is merely keeping political wounds open, rather than promoting much-needed healing in the lands of the former Yugoslavia, which remain politically traumatized by Communism’s collapse and the unpleasant conflicts which followed in its wake. Although – full disclosure alert – I’ve aided the ICTY as an expert witness in more than one case, I’ve been a skeptic too, suspecting that a South African-style Truth and Reconciliation model might have served the Balkans better than justice imported by outsiders.

The problem seemed to be resolving itself, however, as the ICTY was slated to shut its doors imminently since it had few cases left to try. By late last year, there was only one upcoming trial on the books, that of Ratko Mladić, the infamous commander of the Bosnian Serb military during that country’s brutal 1992-95 war.

The tribunal has been given new life, though, by a sensational trial slated to start this week which aims to prosecute two of the most sinister and shadowy of all the Balkan warlords who perpetrated crimes back in the 1990s. They are Jovica Stanišić and Franko Simatović, who a quarter-century ago were top officers of Serbia’s secret police. As such, they oversaw secret units of commandos and criminals who murdered and plundered their way across Croatia and Bosnia in the first half of the 1990s at Belgrade’s behest.

Read the rest at The Observer …