In a perfect world, justice delayed is indeed justice denied, but we live in an imperfect world and, therefore, justice delayed sometimes has to be considered as justice served.
Such is the case with Serbian commander Ratko Mladic, architect of the slaughter of 8,000 children, women and men in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995. Sixteen years after committing genocide and crimes against humanity, Mladic was arrested in Serbia on May 26 and now awaits extradition to the International Criminal Tribunal at The Hague in the Netherlands.
Srebrenica has become synonymous with mass murder and ethnic cleansing, comparable in intensity to Nazi atrocities against the Jews during World War II. Together with Radovan Karadzic, currently awaiting his own trial for crimes against humanity, Mladic demanded that his troops use rape as a weapon of war. The siege of Sarajevo that the two orchestrated lasted from 1992-1995 and took the lives of an estimated 10,000 Roman Catholic Croats and Bosnian Muslims. The cruelty was unrelenting, the savagery unmatched.
Mladic was driven by a sense of himself as a savior of his people and as the avenger of historical events that took place almost two centuries ago when Ottoman Turks ruled what is now Serbia. The death of his 23-year-old daughter by suicide in 1994 only increased his thirst for revenge.
Mladic’s arrest, and that of Karadzic in July 2008, sends a strong signal to the world’s despots that their days are numbered, that the long arm of international law will eventually flush them out from any dirty corner of the world they may be hiding in, and bring them to justice.
This is particularly important for Arab tyrants who, for decades, have been torturing and imprisoning their people at will while looting the national treasury for supporting their sybaritic lifestyles.
The Tunisian dictator Ben Ali fled the country when his people rose in revolt against him in January this year. Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and his sons were arrested in April for corruption, crimes and using deadly violence against protesters.
As long as the rule of law, and not vengeance, dictates the fate of these modern-day pharaohs, there is reason for optimism, although much remains to be done in a region where hereditary monarchy and oligarchy seems to have become the norm.
Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi has been killing Libyans with impunity since he seized power in 1969. He has never tolerated the slightest dissent and deployed spies and secret police to subjugate his people. Since the uprising against him in February, he has killed thousands of Libyans with the help of mercenaries. He has gone into hiding as NATO targets him and his sycophants in and around Tripoli. International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis-Moreno Ocampo is seeking arrest warrants against Gadhafi, his son Saif al-Islam and spy chief Abdullah al-Sensussi for crimes against humanity.
In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh refuses to bow to people’s will, adamantly clinging to power that he has held for 32 years. Hundreds of Yemenis have been killed and undoubtedly more will die in the coming days.
The situation is grimmest in Syria where Bashar Assad has let loose shadowy, mafia-style gunmen to kill protesters. The gunmen openly shoot people they think are a danger to Assad’s regime. They confiscate and grab whatever they like, be it cars, houses, or even women. So far, Assad’s loyalists and security forces have killed over 1,000 Syrians.
The similarity between Assad and Mladic is frightening. When the Syrian uprising began in March in the southern city of Dar’a, Assad ordered his troops to lay siege to the city, as Mladic did in Sarajevo, shutting off electricity, water and telephones. The army arrested schoolchildren who scrawled ant-government graffiti on walls and imprisoned hundreds of young men simply because of their age. There's also precedent in the family. Hafez Assad, Bashar Assad's father, laid siege to the city of Hama in 1982 and killed some twenty thousand Syrians as the world stood silently by.
Luis-Moreno Ocampo must urgently seek arrest warrants also against Bashar Assad and his brother Maher Assad, head of the elite Republican Guard. His troops continue to fire indiscriminately on peaceful protesters and funeral marchers in Syrian cities.
What these despots never anticipated was the reach of social media. Confronted with Twitter, Facebook and the likes, they appear frustrated even as the killing goes on. When government-appointed goons fire on protesters, the image is instantly broadcast across the globe. When a prisoner is tortured, the act is caught on camera and becomes instant news.
A young, web-savvy generation has found in technology an enabler that aids their revolution. They have lost their fear. There is no stopping them now as they fight and die for freedom and justice.
Generals and dictators who commit genocide against their perceived enemies or their own people cannot escape justice. It may take decades or it may take months, but they will have to account for what they have done and pay the price in courts of law. That is the new reality.