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Human rights at 50: a growing trend to intervene

A shift in the thinking that the world should not stay out of all countries' affairs.

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Gen. Radislav Kristic was surprised.

US troops arrested the Serb army commander Dec. 3 and flew him to this Dutch city to face genocide charges in connection with the worst massacre of Muslim civilians in Bosnia. He is the highest-ranking suspect so far taken into custody.

Five decades after the United Nations proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10, 1948, the Hague tribunal illustrates both the victories and defeats of human rights law.

Detention without charges and allegations of government-sanctioned torture and killing continue worldwide, including in the former Yugoslavia. And yet, as the Kristic arrest shows, international human rights law has begun to have an impact. Along with a UN tribunal in Tanzania on the Rwandan genocide, this tribunal marks the first time an independent, international body has convened to judge crimes against humanity.

It comes on the heels of Britain's arrest of Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who was seized while in London for a medical procedure.

Until his capture, General Kristic didn't know he was under indictment.

"Sealed warrants make our work much more effective," explains Louise Arbour, chief prosecutor of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. "Anybody who commits war crimes must now think twice."

Until now, diplomats fought the idea of intervening in other states' internal affairs. But the world is saying that some crimes are so horrific that they override national jurisdiction.

Talks have moved forward, for example, on setting up an international court for Cambodia to address the genocide of an estimated 2 million in the 1970s at the hands of the Khmer Rouge.

Kristic is accused of organizing the massacre of as many as 8,000 Muslim civilians after his troops overran the enclave of Srebrenica.


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