Originally created 07/12/01

Agreeing, uncomfortably



Slobodan Milosevic is a hard character to defend, which is why it's especially irritating to have to agree with him that his appearance before the United Nations international war crimes tribunal is flat-out wrong.

He's an evil man, not quite down there with Adolph Hitler, but darned close, having been responsible for the killing and skull-cracking terrorization of thousands of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo during the 1999 civil war. And he should face justice for those crimes, as well as his election fraud and slimy money laundering schemes.

But that justice should not be found at a world court in Holland, where where Milosevic currently sits stewing in a cell in Scheveningen prison. The proper place for his trial is within his country's borders, otherwise the world is allowing a precedent to be set that can boomerang, robbing sovereign nations of their right to prosecute their own criminals.

This was, after all, a civil war that has come to a fragile peace. It would be one thing if there was complete anarchy in Yugoslavia, but that is just not the case. The slow march back toward civilized society has begun: There is a new president and prime minister, who are untainted by corruption, and slowly the country is re-establishing the rule of law, with no small effort from the United Nations peacekeepers.

Still, the country has come a long way since it was torn apart by warlords in the 1990s. Why the rush to judgment, when internally it appeared that steps were being taken to isolate Milosevic and eventually try him?

The hurry is because even though President Vojislav Kostunica was reluctant to abdicate Yugoslavia's sovereign power and hand over Milosevic, he was forced to buckle because of severe sanctions imposed by the United Nations, the European Union and the United States.

Milosevic, looking natty in his custom-made suit, would not enter a plea at The Hague last week, calling the tribunal "false," with no jurisdiction over him. The madman has a point. Should the United Nations tribunal have jurisdiction, and if so, when and why?

Examine what has occurred with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The United States played a major role in establishing the commission 50 years ago, to act as a watchdog and moral conscience for countries of the world to respect the human rights of their citizens.

But this year, the commission has been taken over by countries with deplorable human rights records, and the United States has been kicked off. Now, the U.N. commission is being run by a group that includes Algeria, China Congo, Kenya, Libya, Liberia, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Vietnam.

Granted, the commission is not a judicial organization, but the comparison stands. Allowing international control over sovereign affairs is a dangerous precedent.

Once we start trying military leaders in world court, it's a short hop to putting soldiers and others from any country on trial. That could include ours.