Toronto Star 1999-11-15

Statistics alone can't measure the evil in Kosovo

IF YOU WERE to lay the known dead - the documented dead - of Kosovo, end to end, the necrotic column would stretch about 10,500 feet.

Gosh, that's barely two miles of rotting flesh. How could we have gone to (undeclared) war over this?

Now . . doesn't that sound just a bit silly? Moreover, doesn't it sound a lot obscene?

This is what happens when you try to measure the breadth of evil by applying the hollowness of numerology: divination by numbers.

But that is what a faction of apologists for Serbia - aligned however fairly or unfairly with the persistent cooing of the doves - have attempted to do since the United Nations prosecutor investigating war crimes in Kosovo released statistics this past week on bodies exhumed thus far from graves dug during the ethnic cleansing campaign to drive ethnic Albanians out of the Yugoslavian province.

I have allotted five feet per victim and defined victim to include any of those poor souls who were clumsily interred by Yugoslavian troops and paramilitary outfits as they herded the (mostly) Muslim and ethnic Albanian Kosovars towards the borders abutting Albania and Macedonia.

The Serb apologists - along with a quite vocal group of media dissenters (who enjoy a freedom of expression in the West that would have got them killed if they plied their profession in any part of Yugoslavia) - have been demanding these figures since the conclusion of the NATO campaign against President Slobodan Milosevic and his military forces. Presumably, the Serb defenders - and those who claim to take the high moral road on matters of international rule, rules of invasion admittedly contravened by NATO - coveted these numbers to further promote a retroactive indictment against the worthiness of the military campaign. That's the most charitable view I can proffer.

Not enough dead: That's the verdict in some quarters. Not enough corpses to justify military intervention on the scope applied by NATO forces. Of course, had there been no intervention, there would have been a whole lot more bodies, which would have been used as evidence to prove NATO's lack of courage, and the West's uncaring attitude towards a humanitarian crisis.

The numbers game is an alarming argument since it operates on the premise that there are degrees of calamity to justify humanitarian - or, for that matter, strategic - intervention.

Two thousand dead - murdered - is apparently not enough. After all, genocide against 800,000 mostly ethnic Tutsis in Rwanda couldn't bestir NATO or the United Nations. And that part of the argument - a selective response - would have much merit, had any of the people excoriating NATO now so much as raised a peep about the Rwandans when that disaster was occurring in 1994, rather than as a contrived rationalization long, long after the fact.

And these are the facts, as UN prosecutor Carla del Ponte delivered them on Wednesday: 2,108 bodies retrieved from graves in Kosovo, presumably the vast majority of them ethnic Albanians or why else would they have been buried in such a manner?

But only 195 of the (known) 529 grave sites in Kosovo have been investigated to this date. A further 11,334 Kosovars have been reported as missing and believed dead - a figure consistent with numbers estimated at the time of the mass expulsion, which began before the bombings and rapidly escalated immediately afterwards, spitefully.

Forensic investigators have also reported that, even in cases where the bodies of victims have been burned - think about that, burned - the evidence is consistent with eye-witness accounts to the crimes.

Del Ponte, in a briefing for the UN Security Council, further reported: ``This figure does not necessarily reflect the total number of actual victims, because we have discovered evidence of tampering with graves. There are also a significant number of sites where the precise number of bodies cannot be counted.''

The investigative work - tabulating the dead - is being done by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which is amassing evidence on the extent of war crimes for trials that may - or may never - take place.

Consider this: The president of the aforementioned tribunal, Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, also complained to the General Assembly last week that the Serbs continue to obstruct the court's efforts by giving succour and freedom of movement to those suspected war criminals who've already been indicted, much less those under suspicion. The subjects are walking about quite freely in Serbia and also in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a republic that was once a part of Yugoslavia and which is now patrolled by French peacekeepers; peacekeepers who, apparently, have neither the inclination nor the orders to arrest the suspects.

For this meekness, McDonald blamed the Security Council - we're back to the United Nations here, that bulwark of international authority, according to the anti-NATO faction - which she accused of lacking the ``will'' to force compliance.

The International Criminal Tribunal predates the horrors of Kosovo - it was established by a Security Council resolution in 1993 - and was still trying to address Yugoslavia's war crimes from the three previous wars Milosevic had started in the region before he took a bead on the ethnic Albanians.

McDonald is a former U.S. federal judge whose term on the tribunal ends this week, which probably explains her forthrightness when she told the General Assembly: ``It is simply unacceptable that territories have become safe havens for individuals indicted for the most serious offences against humanity. It must be made absolutely clear to such states that this illegal and immoral behaviour will not be tolerated.''

Among war crimes suspects currently believed to be enjoying liberty and protection within the Serbian enclave in Bosnia-Herzegovina are wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and military chief Ratko Mladic.

But back to those dead Kosovars: If 2,108 bodies aren't enough, pray then, what would be too many?

[URL may be different next day if article is archived]