The two former members of the notorious White Eagles Serb paramilitary group appealed a decision that the Criminal Tribunal had taken in 2009. Milan was in fact a founding member of the group whose goal was to terrorize Muslim communities, while his cousin joined it later. The former was arrested in August 2005 in Argentina and subsequently extradited to the Hague in 2006, while the latter, who was believed to have been hiding in Russia, turned himself in to the Bosnian Serbian authorities in September 2005 and was extradited
that same month. The two pleaded not guilty.
In 2009, the Tribunal’s panel of judges found Milan Lukic guilty of killing at least 132 Muslims. The judges condemned Lukic for helping to burn alive around 119 people locked up by paramilitary fighters in two houses
set on fire in June 1992 around the town of Visegrad. In turn, Sredoje Lukic was found responsible for beating detainees at the Uzamnica barracks, which at the time was used as a detention center.
Milan Lukic is one of only four people to have received
life sentence from the Criminal Tribunal, which has indicted 161 people involved in the Balkan wars.
Serbian leadership is not likely to enjoy the Tribunal’s decision in this case, given the recent series of acquittals on appeal of Croatia’s General Ante Gotovina and former Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj. These two acquittals
were met with anger by many Serbs, who believe that the Tribunal disfavors them.
Is a life sentence the right punishment? While, in interviews for the AFP, some Muslim victims claimed that they viewed sentencing of the two war criminals as a rebirth, others disagreed and emphasized that the horrific manner in which the two Lukic cousins and their supporters conducted their killings
could not be properly punished through any type of sentence. Indeed, how can an individual sentence, no matter how long, ever be measured up against the innumerable painful deaths caused and the survivors’ and relatives’ endless grief, anger and hurt?
Apart from moral questions, there is a more practical aspect to reconsidering our system of punishment for these types of criminals. Ironically, these days, states hold in harsher prison conditions asylum seekers and illegal migrants, often individuals seeking to lead decent lives in their new locations, than they do murderers.
Anders Breivik, the Norwegian mass killer whose attack claimed 77 lives, recently complained about the conditions in Oslo's Halden Prison, where he currently has a three-room en-suite cell comprising a bedroom, study and exercise
room, measuring in total a mere 86 sq ft. Among his complaints, he mentioned that he is not allowed moisturizer, his toast lacks enough
butter and his coffee is cold.
This situation is simply absurd. This kind of imprisonment is not punishment. Of course, in many European societies, there are horrendous and abusive prisons, but they seem to be reserved for pettier crimes. Apparently, the more sophisticated and widespread the crimes, the better the jail conditions, as if we are almost trying to reward war criminals and other similar murderers for their more elaborate plots. The UN has one detention unit in The Hague, which seems more like a college residential hall with multiple dorm rooms. The rooms have “well-stocked bookshelves, big wardrobes, homey quilts spread over the bed, comfortable chairs, and spacious desks usually crowned
by a laptop.” They also have radios, coffee machines and full private bathrooms.
Each of the floors has a recreational room and the convicts are allowed to roam free most of daytime hours. When the UN sometimes transfers convicted criminals, it usually ensures that the destination jail offers similar comfort as its own detention unit. The UN seems to forget that when incarcerating the most frightening murderers on the planet, it must not only try to prevent them from further harming society, but simultaneously punish them for their actions and ideally bring them to some level of understanding of the wrongness of their acts.
Punishment could entail practical work beneficial for society. If most people have to work around 7 hours a day, why should a criminal have fun in the UN detention unit, sitting in his cell or roaming around his floor? Of course, such criminals should also not be allowed to roam city streets, while doing community work. Instead, using them in projects, such as road construction or dam building, could be one way for them to pay some of their dues to their victims and to society.