War Criminals and the “Hague Hilton”

Charles Taylor, Ratko Mladić and Ante Gotovina are just a few who are detained by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, the Netherlands. ICC has the authority to investigate and prosecute those accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes when national authorities are unable or unwilling to do so. Important to mention is that the death penalty is excluded so the Court’s highest sentence can only be imprisonment.

Charles Taylor was a former president of Liberia for 6 years, from 1997 to 2003. He had started to steal diamonds from the country in order to buy weapons and to join to the civil war in Sierra Leone. His aim was to take possession of the Sierra Leone’s diamond mines. A thousand children soldiers were sent to die in the 7 years war. 250 000 dead people, many raped or maimed and approximately 500 000 refugees were the result of that civil war. During that time Charles Taylor was dealing in ‘blood diamonds’ with the Western world.

Finally he resigned in 2003 due to pressure from George W. Bush and left the country as a free man with his money by a private plane to Nigeria having secured an asylum deal from the Nigerian president. Then the deal was changed and he was arrested in 2006. He is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the ICC.

Slobodan Milošević was the President of Serbia from 1989 to 1997 and then President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from 1997 to 2000. He was arrested by the Yugoslav government in 2001 because of his role in the Bosnian and 1998-99 Kosovo wars. He was handed over to the ICTY for trial on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in 66 counts. Milošević’s wars and ethnic cleansing programs resulted in thousands of deaths and millions of people being left homeless. The trial began in February 2002 with Milošević serving as his own defense lawyer, but it experienced numerous delays because of Milošević’s poor health. On March 11, 2006, the 65-year-old Milošević was found dead in his prison cell.

Ratko Mladić is a former Serbian military general who is accused of the Srebrenica massacre in the Bosnian War of 1992-95. His troops occupied the United Nations safe area, Srebrenica. They murdered around 8000 Muslims and buried them in mass graves in 10 days by Ratko Mladić’s order. The Srebrenica genocide was the worst mass killing in Europe since World War II.

The Serbian police finally arrested him in May 2011 after more than 15 years in hiding. He has been accused of 11 counts, such as crimes against humanity and genocide. His trial is still ongoing although his poor health is on the agenda nowadays so court officials worry that it may well shape the case against him and that we will see a repeat of what happened to Milošević.

Ante Gotovina is a former General of the Croatian Army. He was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in April 2011. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison (now he is 56 years old) because his troops murdered 300 civilians and around 90 000 – 200 000 Serbs had to fled Croatia as a consequence of his ethnic cleansing programmes.

He was captured in the Canary Islands in 2005 after four years in hiding. His arrest was one of the conditions of Croatia’s application to join the European Union.

In the prison the Serb, Bosnian and Croat war criminals- who fought against each other in the Balkans in the 1990s- now live peacefully together. The Scheveningen prison, also called the ‘Hague Hilton’ is the home of the war criminals. Every detainee has a separate cell, about 10 m2 in size which contains a bed, desk, a cupboard, bookshelves, a hand basin and toilet. They can use computers but internet access is not available. Between 7.30 am and 9 pm they are free to mingle but politics and court cases are taboo topics, as is the Yugoslav war. They dress in their own clothes because there is no prison uniform. Detainees always complain about the taste of the food but they can request items from the shop and prepare their own food. Often, they cook a dinner to each other’s birthday. In their free time they go to the gym or the playground. This prison seems luxurious mainly in comparison to the home countries’ prisons in Serbia or in Liberia for instance.

What punishment do these war criminals really deserve? On the one hand, the wars were cruel, brutal and should not be forgotten. They caused the death of thousands of people. Ante Gotovina was sentenced to 24 years in prison. In Sweden, Leif Axmyr killed two people and was in prison over 28 years! Obviously there are differences between war and domestic criminals but one thing is common, the death of innocent people.



On the other hand, they are not guilty until the final judgements and in their home counties they are heroes (except Charles Taylor) as well. Thousands of Serb nationalists protested the arrest of Ratko Mladić and Croatians also demonstrated against the Hague conviction of Ante Gotovina.

There is also criticism of the way method of prosecution and the effectiveness of the ICC and ICTY. The cases were started after 10-15 years the wars, so the principals are old now. The processes of the judgements are also long so the detainees will probably die earlier than the final judgement day, as Slobodan Milošević did.

All in all, the ICC gives hope to people that the war criminals get their right punishment because no one can take away the human rights as said in Article 3 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights ‘Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.’


Suggested reading: Webpage of the International Criminal courtInternational Criminal Tribunal for the former YugoslaviaYugoslav Wars

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