Wednesday, June 29, 2011

War Crimes And Uncertain Justice Ratko Mladic was nabbed in Serbia recently and flown to The Hague to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, it was one more sign of justice drawing a little closer for the families of those he and his forces murdered in the mid 1990 s. There is always that sense of satisfaction when criminality, localised or global, is hunted down and those who have destroyed the lives of innocent men, women and children eventually have their comeuppance. It is just too bad that Slobodan Milosevic died before judgement could be delivered on his role in the Balkan wars. But that Mladic and Radovan Karadzic are in the net reinforces the argument somewhat that men who cause misery to other men have in the end really nowhere to hide, that civilised men always have a way of bringing them to justice. Even so, you could well argue, that is not always the truth. Consider the bizarre case of the Israelis, generation upon generation, riding roughshod over legitimate Palestinian rights. Binyamin Netanyahu's arrogance is outrageous. And there have been his predecessors who have with little shame pounded away at unarmed civilians. Their targeted assassinations of Palestinian figures are clear crimes that require to be answered before an international court. By any definition of international law, a whole range of Israeli political and military leaders qualifies for trial on charges of crimes against humanity. And yet these are the very elements who have been received with much fanfare in the corridors of power in the West. Barack Obama's call for peace in the Middle East has fallen flat. Netanyahu was recently given a standing ovation by American lawmakers as many as twenty six times! There are other men, besides Israel's leading politicians, who ought to have been behind bars upon conviction for war crimes. When you go through the painstaking process of watching the murderous figures of the Khmer Rouge answer for their genocidal activities between the mid and end-1970 s, you are left somewhat satisfied that these old, doddering men are finally paying for their sins. Pol Pot, Ieng Sary, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan once tried to exterminate civilization in Cambodia. In a larger sense, war criminals are war criminals because they tend to believe, and reinforce that belief as they move on, that theirs is a duty to restructure society to their specifications. They end up leaving a pile of rubble where once there was a stable, perhaps a trifle flawed, social order. Yes, the Khmer Rouge men have been rubbing their noses in the dirt. And yet there are all the others who have strutted around on the stage of the world despite all the murders they have committed, despite all the rape of women they have indulged in. The proper course for the new state of Bangladesh, in the early 1970 s, should have been to bring to trial all the Pakistani army officers and lower ranking soldiers for the genocide of Bengalis they carried out between March and December 1971. Bangabandhu's government, faced as it was with multi-faceted pressure on the international front, finally zeroed in on a hundred and ninety five Pakistani officers who would stand trial in Bangladesh. That move too fizzled out, thanks to the tripartite deal involving Bangladesh, India and Pakistan on an exchange of Pakistani prisoners of war and Bengalis stranded in Pakistan. The Islamabad authorities, to assuage Bengali feelings, promised to bring the criminal officers to justice in Pakistan itself. No one believed them. That apprehension was not misplaced. Pakistan did not try its murderous military officers because of the simple reason that it did not and would not believe that its soldiers had been killing Bengalis. They were merely engaged in defending Pakistan's territorial integrity in the face of external aggression! Recall, now, how the war criminals of 1971 were rehabilitated in Pakistani society. General Tikka Khan, who left 'East Pakistan' in September 1971 -- by which time more than two million Bengalis had been murdered -- was appointed chief of staff of the Pakistan army by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Upon retirement, Tikka joined the Pakistan People's Party and at one point became its secretary general. Under Benazir Bhutto, he served as governor of Punjab. General Rao Farman Ali served happily as a minister in General Ziaul Haq's regime. General A.A.K. Niazi, for all the opprobrium brought on him through his surrender in Dhaka, went into politics and remained there till his death. Siddiq Salik, author of Witness to Surrender and the man who intimidated the media in occupied Bangladesh into toeing the Pakistani line in 1971 , served as media advisor to Ziaul Haq before crashing to death along with the dictator in 1988. General Yahya Khan lived in house arrest till 1980 without being punished for his crimes. General Omar became a frequent talk show host on Pakistani television, perennially proclaiming his innocence about 1971. Justice, then, is always a tenuous, tentative affair. You are happy that Augustin Bizimungu has been punished in Rwanda, that Mladic and Karadzic will die in prison. The happiness turns sour when you remember that no one has brought Ariel Sharon before an international tribunal; that those Pakistanis have evaded justice; that George W. Bush and Tony Blair, having committed war crimes through destroying Iraq, go around parading their self-serving memoirs. Many years ago, Japan's Admiral Tojo was hanged for war crimes. The good men in the West, forever defending the rule of law and justice, have not explained why Harry Truman was never prosecuted for sending tens of thousands of Japanese to death in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. You ponder all this. And you wait to know if some men in Sri Lanka will answer for their own crimes committed in the course of the war against the Tamil Tigers.