National laws are a tangible expression of the limits of behaviour that society is willing to tolerate. Anything beyond these limits is prohibited, subject to state sanction and ostracism from society. The same applies across borders to the international arena. International law exists to prohibit acts that are so heinous, so offensive to our collective human consciousness that they cannot be tolerated.
International society has demanded after events that have shocked and frightened us that institutions be set up to punish and seek out those who offend us, those who go beyond the limits that human kind has designated. These limits are more relaxed, less clear or strident than those at a national level. International society has a propensity to agree on very little yet when it does, it does so emphatically. We’ve agreed that it is unacceptable to commit genocide, for example.
Ratko Mladic is an international criminal whose crimes define international law. From ethnic cleansing to deportation and persecution he exists as a caricature of all that our international society deems unacceptable. Furthermore, he continues to offend our collective will by flouting the rules and procedures of the institutions we created to defend and enforce international law. Most notably, his refusal to cooperate with the judges in the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
Under no circumstances must we forget he is there standing trial for crimes against humanity. When he murdered Bosniaks in the 90s it wasn’t just a crime against his victims it was a crime against our collective human consciousness. We can’t forget that it is as a result of our international view that genocide is unacceptable that he is there. We are part of this process. As an international society we can’t allow his disrespect for our collective agreement (considering how little we all agree on, this is even more important) to go unnoticed. If he is simply forgotten then he has won, he’s proved that humanity isn’t so offended by his actions after all. If his crimes are translated into opaque legalese few can understand or his trial bogged down by appeals and lack lustre evidence from governments (I am looking at the Serb government when I say that) then what can we expect from our fragile system?
We have to keep talking about international law. We have to keep writing about human rights and about those who have yet to be brought to justice by our system. Our legislators need to keep asking probing questions of our governments, our judges need to keep laying precedent upon precedent in support of our unified revulsion for crimes against humanity.
Teachers need to talk about it with their pupils. You need to talk about it with your friends and family. Bring it up at your workplace and get a debate started. We can’t let people like Mladic win. We’re all part of this and if it’s allowed to fall out of the public eye or interest then those with the power to do more to catch war criminals and bring them to justice will have no pressure to continue and increase their efforts.