Prosecutions will send powerful message

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 May, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 May, 1999, 12:00am

In recommending a land invasion of Yugoslavia and the legal prosecution of those responsible for ethnic cleansing and other war crimes, the Pentagon is, for once, advocating a humanitarian and civilised course of action.

The war in Yugoslavia has to be terminated by some means. If it is terminated by agreement with Slobodan Milosevic and his henchmen, ethnic cleansing and terrorism will be endorsed, and will continue for many years, as they have done in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Northern Ireland, and other places where the international community has failed to rein in criminal governments or terrorists.

The prosecution of the government and the non-government forces in Yugoslavia is as necessary as the prosecution of the Nazis after World War II. The results of such enforcement, even if it costs some lives, will put a brake on irresponsible politicians the world over, who consider that citizens are their property, to be killed at will for the sake of national integrity.

It is terrible to go to war, but not as terrible as the present-day fate of people in Iraq, North Korea, Afghanistan, or in Yugoslavia itself, who are subject to the random will of nationalistic politicians rather than the universally valid principles of self-determination and economic freedom.

Innocent civilians have been sacrificed in huge numbers by politicians of many nations. We remember the atrocities of Germany and Japan in the 1940s, but mostly ignore the hundreds of thousands of innocent families killed by the allies in the atomic bombing of Japan, or the carpet bombing of German civilians. We hear about the 58,000 Americans killed in Vietnam, but not much about the three million Vietnamese dead.

China thinks it is justifiable to launch rockets towards Taiwan, or suppress dissent in Tibet. What do the people who live in those places think? Long after the Cold War, Russia is still using force in Chechnya. The assumption seems to be that it is okay for politicians to sacrifice civilians if it furthers a nationalistic cause. Well, it is not okay with me.

The prosecution of criminals for ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia would send a powerful message to politicians the world over: you can't get away with it any longer! ROSS MILBURN Chai Wan