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War crimes tribunal overdue for Bosnia - and the world.

The pain of Americans deepens everyday as the carnage of Bosnia's Muslims becomes more intense. The number of rapes, refugees and concentration camps escalates as the crusade for "ethnic cleansing" mounts to staggering, Nazi-like proportions.

In a poll taken March 5-9 by NBC and The Wall Street Journal, Americans were divided 51-41 against the idea of sending U.S. ground troops to Bosnia as part of a peacekeeping force. The White House is urging Bosnia's beleaguered Muslims to sign a peace accord, but those oppressed people understandably are resisting because there are no guarantees that the Serbs will respect a cease-fire even if they sign it.

Apparently, some form of U.N settlement will be forthcoming. But its enforcement is the question. How, for example, can Serbs be induced to return territory in Eastern Bosnia that they have taken at a terrible cost to Muslim life?

And what happens if the Serbs defy the no-fly zone over Bosnia? In addition, what could European nations and the United States do if the proposed 10 ethnically based provinces simply are not successful?

The uncertainty about every option in the war in the Balkans is an increasingly awful problem for the new government in the United States. How will history 20 years from now judge the inaction of the major European powers and the United States? Will historians be required to record that traditional Christian nations walked away when a Muslim-led nation in Europe was decimated by a traditionally Christian country?

What will the world say about the neutrality of the United States when the extent of the atrocities of the Serbs against Bosnia is revealed? Will the United States be as embarrassed as it was when the brutality of the U.S.-backed government in El Salvador was disclosed in a shocking U.N. report last month?

At least one creative and constructive development has occurred with respect to the carnage in the former Yugoslavia. On Feb. 18, for the first time since World War II, the U.N. Security Council voted to set up a court to prosecute people responsible for war crimes in the aftermath of the unraveling of former Yugoslavia that began in June 1991.

Although the establishment by the United Nations of a new Nuremberg-type tribunal did not attract the world's attention as it deserved, it is nonetheless a very important step forward for humanity.

Nuremberg established the principle of accountability for all people who initiate a war of aggression. That principle was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly and is now a part of international law.

People guilty of war crimes or genocide can now be punished like the defendants at Nuremberg and their counterparts at the Tokyo trials. Nuremberg found 19 of the original 22 defendants guilty of capital offenses; trials for an additional 185 defendants resulted in long jail sentences for many.

The Nuremberg principles were expanded and codified in 1949 when most of the world's nations, including the United States, met in Geneva and adopted four treaties that prescribed protection for prisoners and civilians in time of war.

All parties of the conflict in Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro have accepted the Geneva conventions and are therefore responsible for violations. The new U.N. tribunal can apply a sophisticated set of rules to the new war criminals in the Balkans.

History may judge that the United States, influenced by its bitter experience in Vietnam, allowed the brutality against Muslims in Europe to go unchecked. Dropping food from the air and struggling to obtain a no-fly zone may someday look like pathetic gestures when thousands of people were being raped, imprisoned, killed and driven out of their homes.

But at least in 1993, the United States persuaded the United Nations to revive and institutionalize the moral principles the United States and its victorious allies put into world law by its work at the Nuremberg tribunal.

The principal Nazi war criminals punished in Nuremberg have become villains for all time. The machinery has now been put in place so that the aggressors who engaged in torture, executions and forcible displacement of civilians in the ashes of Yugoslavia will be juridically branded for all time as no less guilty than the Nazi leaders condemned at Nuremberg.
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Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Apr 2, 1993
Words:709
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