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Friday, 3 August, 2001, 20:26 GMT 21:26 UK
War crimes: The ethnic balance
Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic
Serbs say the tribunal is prejudiced against them
By BBC south-east Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

The arrests of three senior Bosnian Muslim army officers have once again thrown the spotlight onto the ethnic backgrounds of those indicted by The Hague war crimes tribunal.

But what is the ethnic balance among those charged by the tribunal and what is its relevance?

Mehmed Alagic
Mehmed Alagic was arrested by Bosnian police
The wars in the former Yugoslavia - in Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Kosovo, and now in Macedonia - have been fought largely along ethnic lines. Yet the Hague tribunal makes it clear that it is not in the business of establishing "ethnic quotas" for war crimes.

Instead, its prosecutors say they issue indictments when there is sufficient evidence to put an individual on trial - regardless of their ethnic background.

The Serbs

But the tribunal's assurances have by no means satisfied everyone.

Until recently Serbs were largely united in arguing that the tribunal was a creature of the West - and of the United States in particular.

It is only since the fall of the former Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic - who was handed over to the tribunal at the end of June - that Serbia has started to work with the tribunal.

Meanwhile, the Bosnian Serb republic has now started a parliamentary process that may lead to a law allowing for the extradition of its citizens.

Serb claims that the tribunal is prejudiced against them are based, in part, on the fact that Serbs make up the largest number of those publicly charged so far - about 40 out of 72 indictees.

For Croats, Muslims and Kosovar Albanians this is simply confirmation of their belief that Serbs were by far the most responsible for war crimes.

Wanted poster
Serbs have not co-operated with the tribunal
But the tribunal does not see its mandate as apportioning blame to the different national or ethnic groups.

Nonetheless, tribunal officials have made the point that one of the reasons that relatively few individuals have so far been charged with committing atrocities against Serbs is because of the Serbs' long-standing failure to co-operate - even by way of providing evidence that would help the case of Serb victims.

The Croats

Croats account for the second largest number - over 20 - among those charged.

Croats have co-operated with the tribunal much more than the Serbs have. Many of them have given themselves up or have been extradited leaving a much higher proportion of Croat indictees either in custody or convicted.

Rahim Ademi
Rahim Ademi gave himself up to the tribunal, but some Croats are angered
That has caused bitterness among the Croats, as has the recent indictment of two of their wartime generals, the first Croats from Croatia, rather than Bosnian Croats, to have been charged.

For Croats the 1991-95 Homeland War was a war of liberation against what was initially a much stronger Serb enemy, and in which about three quarters of the estimated 20,000 dead were Croats.

Many of them are reluctant to see their war heroes sent off to The Hague.

The Bosnian Muslims

By contrast with the Serbs and Croats, Bosnian Muslims have been very willing to co-operate with the tribunal.

They were the first side - back in 1996 - to arrest two indictees from their own side when the mainly Muslim authorities in Bosnia's Muslim-Croat federation handed them over to the tribunal.

However, even with the arrests of the three senior officers on Thursday, the number of Muslims - or Bosniaks - who have been publicly indicted so far is only six.

Mass war grave near Srebrenica
The majority of those who died in the Bosnian war were Muslims
That Muslims should account for the smallest number of those charged by the tribunal seems perfectly normal to the Bosnian Muslim community - and large sections of public opinion around the world - who see the Muslims as the main victims of the war.

There are no reliable figures about the number of dead in the Bosnian war - some estimates run to over 200,000 - but from what can be established the vast majority were Muslims.

In spite of their victim status, Muslims are prepared to go along with the indictments of Muslim war crimes suspects - partly because they place much greater trust in the international community and its institutions than the Serbs or the Croats do.

The latest arrests have not triggered the kind of government crisis or public anger that were seen in both Yugoslavia and Croatia following sensitive extradition issues over the past month.

The Kosovar Albanians

So far no Kosovar Albanians have been publicly charged over the conflict in 1998-99 - although one of the Croatian generals indicted, Rahim Ademi, is an ethnic Albanian.

Funerals of Racak victims
Kosovar Albanians see themselves as victims
Kosovar Albanians also tend to see themselves as victims who accounted for most of the perhaps 8,000 people killed in Kosovo.

But the lack of indictments is due to the hugely difficult task of collecting evidence which, in the case of General Ademi for example, came eight years after the events for which he was charged.

Besides, the Kosovar Albanians' struggle was a guerrilla war and, by its very nature, it is more difficult to establish a chain of command than in a regular army.

See also:

03 Aug 01 | Europe
More Bosnia arrests urged
02 Aug 01 | Europe
General guilty of Bosnia genocide
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