It is easy to advocate human rights: who doesn’t want to uphold the rights of men, women and children to freedom of expression, belief, movement and existence?
I fear, however, that though I expound human rights ardently I also remain darkly hypocritical.
In short, looking closer at human rights issues a conundrum in a similar vein to the chicken-and-egg puzzle arises.
For example, if a person commits a terrible crime then flees a country and is later petitioned for extradition from the secondary country, should their right to a fair trial and/or peaceful end of life be respected?
Given the above example, it is most likely the case of Abdelbaset Ali Al-Megrahi who springs to mind; not so – that old chestnut has been done to death in the media.
No, I am considering the case of Dragan Vasiljković, also known as Captain Dragan, formerly of the Serbian paramilitary forces and latterly an Aussie golf instructor.
Born in Belgrade, Vasiljković relocated with his family to Australia at the age of 15 and became an Australian citizen.
Riled by the events unfolding during the 1991-1995 War of Independence, Vasiljković returned to the then fragmenting Yugoslavia to form and lead the Serbian paramilitary unit called Knindže – otherwise known as the Knin ninjas or Red berets.
In his time as Captain he is accused of ordering and committing the torture and murder of numerous Croats from the villages surrounding Knin, including a foreign journalist based in the area.
As the war ground to an aching halt Vasiljković scurried back to Australia to continue his life as though nothing had happened.
Until 2006 that is, when he was arrested in Perth at the behest of the Croatian government on the charge of war crimes.
Naturally Vasiljković has resisted all attempts at extradition, spinning fantastical yarns of how he merely trained soldiers for independence and that he is being persecuted for his political beliefs.
Following this line of defense his legal team has argued that extradition to Zagreb will result in a “substantial or real chance of prejudice.”
On these grounds, Australia has conceded and denied extradition.
In other words, the war criminal can return to his golf course, chuckle his way to a peaceful night’s sleep and rest safe in the knowledge that Mama Australia shall protect.
And what of those seeking justice – the families robbed of their home, belongings, siblings and families?
What of those still tormented by night terrors as they relive the torture enacted by Vasiljković and his men?
This is where I come unstuck with human rights: I believe in justice.
The man murdered. Whether he trained or held the pliers or gun himself, he is a murderer.
“Prejudice” is merely a pretext for wiggling out of facing his dues.
It may be harsh, but the Balkan conflict is all too often forgotten – the atrocities there are no less heinous than those unfolding now, elsewhere.
War is war and justice should mean justice.