U.S. Government Support for Punitive Action

As with the decision to “do something,” the USG’s choice to punish the suspected perpetrators of the Balkan atrocities resulted from an understanding of its legal obligations, reinforced by a combination of political and pragmatic factors. First, the USG believed—or at least claimed to believe—that it had a duty to punish violators of international law. As part of the USG’s announcement that it would support the establishment of a war crimes commission through the UN, the USG stated: “Those who violate the Nuremberg principles, which are reflected in international humanitarian law, must be punished.”126

The USG vociferously opposed various alternative methods for addressing suspected perpetrators of the Balkan atrocities. When confronted with the prospect of defending its support for prosecution over amnesty, for example, the U.S./ DoS prepared talking points that emphasized normative beliefs and pragmatic reasons for opposing the latter transitional justice option. The U.S./DoS argued that amnesty was foreclosed out of an obligation to punish violators of international law, especially for the case of the FRY:

We believe that persons responsible for serious human rights abuses should be punished. This is particularly true of those people whom states have positive international legal obligations to prosecute or extradite, including those who are responsible for: grave braches of the Geneva Conventions; acts of genocide; violations of the Torture Convention; crimes against internationally protected persons; and crimes against citizens of other states.127

The U.S./DoS also argued that the ongoing peace process would not necessitate amnesty, and that prosecution was indeed a distinct enterprise:

Even if the parties to the conflict agreed to an amnesty among themselves, this would not bind other states. We believe that the peace talks are not actively considering the possibility of an amnesty. In fact, the leaders of the talks have asked that the [ICTY] proceed on a track separate from the peace talks.128

Finally, the USG, through prepared talking points, doubted the effectiveness of amnesty in this case. The script expressed “skepticism about an amnesty’s contribution to peace in that region” and stated that “[o]ur best chance to break the cycle of vengeance is to make the people responsible for crimes individually accountable before a court that scrupulously observes due process.”129

A little less than a year after the ICTY’s establishment, Albright offered a further reason to preclude amnesty: to combat apathy over enforcing international law. In a speech on April 12, 1994, at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Albright declared: “We all have a stake in the success of this Tribunal ... . We oppose amnesty for the architects of ethnic cleansing ... . And there is no more appropriate place than here to sound a clarion call against the indifference and towards the harder choice of dedication to the rule of law.”130

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