In early September 2004 I flew to the Hague for an academic conference from Istanbul (where I remember watching the horror at Beslan unfold on BBC TV). I took a day off from the conference to visit the ICTY court house. I ended up spending the day watching the trial of Slododan Milosevic with about five other people in the public gallery which was behind a plexiglass partition from the court room. It felt like one was watching theatre in a fish bowl. A Greek American, James Jatras, was testifying on Milosevic’s behalf, a gentleman who once worked for a group called the US Senate Republican Policy Committee on Capitol Hill. He also worked as an aide to former Senator Larry Craig (R-ID). What he articulated was a ‘clash of civilizations’ argument, with a clear Orthodoxy versus Islam dimension.
I am recalling this visit today because General Ratko Mladic has just gone on trial at the same building I visited. Michael Dobbs is blogging on the trial and has recorded a series of video interviews with survivors outside this building. It is disquieting viewing. One, on the one hand, is happy for these victims that they have had a ‘day in court’ with the person with command responsibility for the crimes they experienced and suffered. On the other hand, their horror is re-awakened and overwhelms them and us. No human being should have had to suffer like their much younger selves (minus 20 years) did. Violence can occur in an instant yet its impact, for those that survive its trauma, lasts a lifetime.
I hope, for all concerned, that this trial proceeds in a manner that is rigorous in establishing facts and controlled in its limitation of infantile behavior by Mladic. How sadly ironic it is that a few of the children his forces once brutalized get to view him as an old man behaving in a child-like manner. For a report on the first day see Julian Borger’s account in The Guardian.