Ratko Mladic, the commander of the Bosnian Serb army, yesterday appeared for the second time before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The hearing was marked by heated exchanges between Mladic and the presiding judge, Alphons Orie of the Netherlands. His indictment on 11 charges—including genocide, persecution, and deportation—stems from his leadership of the Bosnian Serb army during the 1992-95 war, including the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre. In court yesterday, Mladic said he would not enter a plea without the presence of his Serbian and Russian lawyers, while the court said the Serbian attorney was not qualified to represent Mladic since he does not speak English. On Sunday, Agence France-Presse had reported that Mladic planned to boycott the hearing as a protest against issues with his representation. After Mladic’s expulsion, the judge entered pleas of not guilty on all 11 charges, but did not set a date for his next court appearance.
Laws of War: Crisis Group president Louise Arbour delivers speech
Louise Arbour, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and current president of the International Crisis Group, delivered the annual Kirby Lecture at the Australian National University on June 23. Titled “The Laws of War: Under Siege or Gaining Ground?” the speech examined the current state of international humanitarian law and the laws governing warfare.
Arbour noted that international law regarding the conduct of war has come under attack from both sides, one arguing that traditional laws of war constrain governments’ ability to fight asymmetric wars against terrorists or insurgents, the other arguing that international law gives too much leeway to states that inflict civilian casualties. While Arbour acknowledged important gaps in international humanitarian law, she said some criticisms were a result of the law’s greater effectiveness in recent years in holding perpetrators of atrocities accountable and the desire of some states to avoid being held accountable for their actions.
Arbour noted that armed conflict has changed dramatically since international treaties like the Geneva Conventions were formulated. It is not always clear whether military, counterinsurgency, and counterterrorism operations against non-state actors can be considered acts of war, which means they need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine how they should be governed under international and domestic laws. However, even if non-state actors violate laws governing warfare, Arbour argued that states should abide by them, especially when it comes to protecting civilians. Non-state violators can be held accountable through the criminal process, whereas states are still bound by their obligations under those treaties.
Even if asymmetric warfare has made it more difficult to distinguish between civilians and combatants, Arbour said today’s criteria remained useful, relevant, and necessary: “The current formulation does allow for the targeting of ‘civilian combatants’ when they are engaged in hostilities. To expand humanitarian law to allow the targeting of those civilians not directly involved in hostilities would be a dangerous step, and would entirely undermine the rationale of civilian protection.”
Arbour noted the continuing debate over what constitutes excessive civilian casualties, with one side arguing that any restriction on civilian casualties is too restrictive and the other that current laws of war allow too many civilian casualties. She said that current laws struck a proper balance between “military and humanitarian imperatives,” and that clearer standards would develop over time.
Finally Arbour discussed the concept of “lawfare”—the “use or the abuse of laws of war as a military tool.” While she cautioned against the manipulation of law for political aims, she also highlighted international humanitarian law’s potential to play a major role in protecting civilians and prevent conflict if implemented and enforced properly, and warned against attempts to cast aside or radically revise the current system of international humanitarian law.
Photo: The Guardian