Human Rights Watch
and NATO's War
This is the Concluding Note from the article by Edward S. Herman, David Peterson and George Szamuely: Human Rights Watch in Service to the War Party: Including A Review of "Weighing the Evidence: Lessons from the Slobodan Milosevic Trial" (Human Rights Watch, December, 2006)
While it has often done valuable service, HRW has failed badly in dealing with the disintegration of Yugoslavia. It supported that dismantlement, its leaders arguing that this would help minorities. They were wrong and thus their stance contributed to an escalation of human rights abuses. Their claim that justice must be given greater weight than peace-making fed into the interests of those eager for war and had disastrous effects on all the “nations” of the former Yugoslavia. Their claim that justice must come first in order to deliver peace of mind to the victims and as essential for peace and reconciliation, which follows the ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia] party line, is untenable and hypocritical in the light of ICTY and HRW practice. A focus on justice merges easily into vengeance and feeds antagonism and hostility, particularly when carried out in a one-sided fashion. The first Milosevic indictment listed 344 Kosovo Albanian victims, so presumably their relatives needed “justice, “ but as noted earlier the ICTY found that 495 Serb victims of NATO bombing did not provide a sufficient “crime base” for any action, so how are the families of these victims to obtain justice? Where is the justice for the victims of Operation Storm, or the scores of thousands of Serbs and Roma ousted from the Kosovo under NATO control? (Serbia has had to deal with more refugees than any other area in the former Yugoslavia.)
If the Serbs feel and we believe are fully justified in feeling that they have been victims of a Great Power assault based on geopolitical considerations, and subjected to extreme and politicized discrimination in the workings of the ICTY, the show trial of their leader will hardly make them more peace-minded. That show trial was also a “travesty” in terms of substance. If it was to educate Serbs by instructing them about their leaders’ guilt, it failed abysmally, and not just because it was managed incompetently. It failed because, at bottom, it was a political trial in which the political case was not only unsustainable, but was shown to be trying the lesser villains the bigger ones being those guilty of the “supreme international crime” and it revealed itself throughout to be a “rogue court” serving the bigger villains, violating every legal principle, and moving inexorably toward the pre-determined finding of guilt.
Sadly, HRW has played an important role in this travesty and has therefore been an important contributor to human rights violations in the former Yugoslavia. HRW helped stir up passions in the demonization process from 1992 onward and actively and proudly contributed to preparing the ground for NATO’s “supreme international crime” in March 1999. It has conveniently assumed “neutrality” on matters of aggression, though WTE [Weighing the Evidence: Lessons from the Slobodan Milosevic Trial, drafted under the auspices of HRW's International Justice Program] focuses on Serbia’s cross-border aid to the Bosnian and Krajina Serbs as something to be strongly condemned so it ceases to be neutral on aggression when the Serbs can be targeted, although, with a droll application of the double standard, U.S. and Croatian aid to their allies in Bosnia are exempt from criticism. There are no holds barred in finding against the bad guys, just as our side only makes regrettable mistakes. This human rights group is even completely oblivious to the violation of Slobodan Milosevic’s human rights as a prisoner. Indicted Croatians are exempted from being put on trial for ill health, indicted Kosovo Albanians are released from Hague incarceration to return to campaign for office in Kosovo, but Milosevic, a very sick man, was not released to get medical attention in Moscow even with Russian assurances of his return. His death just 16 days after this rejection was regretted by Carla Del Ponte because “It deprives the victims of the justice they need and deserve” but WTE and HRW have no word of criticism for this improper treatment. They are on the team with Carla Del Ponte and the Western establishment.
In the past, two of the present authors have compared the Milosevic trial to the Moscow show trials of the late 1930s. Recalling the Dewey Commission of Inquiry's conclusion that the Moscow trials “served not juridical but political ends,” we observed that, among the parallels between these trials and the bodies conducting them, one that stands out is their public-relations function, and, more broadly, their drafting of a historical record that serves the needs of the dominant political faction, even if executed in juridical form. Here we add the observation that Human Rights Watch's Weighing the Evidence concludes its summary of the Prosecution's case against Milosevic in the same place where it begins, with the affirmation that, going forward, “Trials of high-level suspects will be important for the documentation of events and the role and responsibility of various actors, irrespective of any conclusion relating to the defendant's guilt or innocence.” If this is true, and if we allow the Milosevic trial and the ICTY to become our models for “international justice,” then both the historical record and human rights will suffer damaging blows.
© 2007 Edward S. Herman, David Peterson and George Szamuely
See also Edward S. Herman's
Richard Holbrooke, Samantha Power, and the “Worthy-Genocide” Establishment
Nato's War Human Rights Serendipity Home Page