JUSTICE OVERDUE IN BOSNIA
I deployed to Bosnia in 2008 as the NATO Legal Advisor for the mission there. We had a number of assignments, including tracking down fugitive war criminals, coordinating peace-building efforts with the European Union, and handling claims issues. Our staff of local attorneys helped us do our jobs and understand the local culture. We had some tremendous successes while I was there, including capturing the notorious genocidal Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic, in conjunction with our Serbian allies.
My favorite memory of that time is not catching a war criminal, but rather finding justice for a family. Ten years prior, a Russian military truck had run a man and his eldest son off the road, killing them. The agreement between NATO and the Russian government let us adjudicate the claim, but required them to pay the damages. By the time the claim had been adjudicated, the Russians had sent their soldiers home, and the Russian Embassy refused to pay the claim. The man had a widow and seven surviving children, who were destitute.
I asked if we could pay their claim from NATO funds earmarked for accidents. We could not. However, we did have an excess in the solatium claims account, which was set aside for gestures of regret over accidental deaths and injuries from military operations. Coincidentally, the excess exactly matched the amount of the claim from the accident. We weren’t conducting operations that were likely to result in deaths or injuries at this point, so the money had no claimants and no probability of being needed in the future.
We paid the family. We even found a way for them to be able to continue to pursue their claim against the Russian government. While nothing could really compensate them for their father’s death, at least the children received some money for food, rent, and an education. It’s never too late to try to bring a measure of justice to the world.