It’s a sleepy morning in Westminster. Fleet Street is exercised by the arrival of
a new strain of e-coli in Britain and there’s also the promise of a sweltering day’s Test cricket at Lords. The Hague, by contrast, woke to the prospect of seeing Ratko Mladic, the Butcher of Belgrade, arraigned before the international court. Mladic was in hospital over night, being treated for his cancer. In view of Mladic’s ailing health, the chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, shortened the list of charges to ensure that the trial is shortened. In other words, those charges that might not easily stick are to be dropped so that sentence can be passed quickly. The same expeditious ruse was used during the trial of Radovan Karadzic.
There are some who will be unnerved by the prosecutor’s move, which suggests that judgment has already been passed on Mladic and that this is no more than a pious show trial. Daniel Hannan and John Laughland list other objections here. But while I don’t think there is any doubt of Mladic’s guilt, the trial is still of symbolic importance to his victims. And it also has a bearing on the future of the Balkans and that region’s relationship with the European Union. Baroness Ashton, who was in Belgrade on the day of Mladic’s arrest (perhaps coincidentally), has today urged President Boris Tadic to use the trial as a means to forge rapprochement with Kosovo, which is likely to be a pre-condition of Serbia’s accession to the EU. This
is a show trial with a difference.