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WAR CRIMES by Aryeh Neier


Brutality, Genocide, Terror, and the Struggle for Justice

by Aryeh Neier

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8129-2381-2
Publisher: Times/Henry Holt

An abiding commitment to justice brings a positive tone to a depressing subject. Neier, former executive director of Human Rights Watch and the ACLU, weaves together the history of human atrocities with recent events in the former Yugoslavia (and, to a much lesser extent, Rwanda), unveiling the appalling fact that despite WWII and the subsequent war crimes trials, at the end of this century brutality is, if anything, worse than ever. The siege of Sarajevo can be distinguished from the ravaging of cities in WWII, for example, because the former’s destruction of nonmilitary targets and civilians cannot be appropriately characterized as collateral damage: “Removing or destroying the civilians and their cultural monuments was the whole point.” Neier’s succinct background summary illuminates the class and cultural animosity that accompanied ethnic hatred and produced a situation in which the prosperous citizens, cosmopolitan values, and mixed ethnicity of Sarajevo were attacked by the relatively poor, provincial, and ethnically pure Serbians. In an attempt to be nonpartisan without flinching from judgment, Neier recognizes that all parties in the Bosnian conflict “committed atrocities” but rejects as “nonsense” any claim that all sides were equally to blame. His real concern is not pointing the finger at an ethnic group, however, but rather the prosecution of individuals. He applauds the establishment of a tribunal to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for atrocities in Bosnia, and insofar as there is a general purpose underlying this effort, it is to promote the formation of a permanent International Criminal Court to facilitate the prosecution of war crimes. Neier’s hopes for future action may reflect an unrealistic confidence that judicial proceedings can produce justice, but given the state of human affairs, the need for justice is undeniable. (2 maps)