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Opinion: A miscarriage of British justice

Claims that Bosnian professor Ejup Ganic committed war crimes against Serbian invaders are flawed and misconceived.

The world will never forget news reports as Serbia surrounded Sarajevo, former host of the Winter Olympics, and from the hills rained down rockets and bullets on citizens. Casualties of the war were massive; 150,000 were killed in a country with a population of 4 million; hillsides today are filled with white tombstones. Still, though 60 percent of the housing was destroyed, the spirit of many Bosnians stayed strong.

Now Serbia is anxious to draw public attention away from the trial of one of its former leaders, Radovan Karadzic, which resumed in The Hague on the day Ganic was arrested. According to the New York Times, the Bosnian Serb is “widely regarded by diplomats as the chief architect of ethnic cleansing ... crimes that were Europe's worst atrocities since World War II.”

In his speech to the tribunal, Karadzic maintained, on the one hand, that the killing of thousands of Muslims was "just and holy," and on the other, that the killing of 8,000 unarmed Muslim men and boys by Serbs at Srebrenica did not take place. The mass graves, he suggested, were filled with bones brought from elsewhere — shades of Holocaust denial yet again.

This whole affair is embarrassing for the British government. The U.K. is regarded as a soft touch for the execution of many extradition requests issued for spurious reasons. The government now claims to be unable to intervene in Ganic’s incarceration; the strictly observed separation of powers means that the matter is now in the hands of the courts. It leaves open the possibility that Bosnia will carry out its threat to rescue Ganic by issuing a request that the U.K. hand him over to authorities there.

Bosnia argues that there is an agreement between Serbia and Bosnia for those alleged to have perpetrated war crimes to be tried in their home jurisdiction if the alleged crime was committed there. Such an action would lead to an unprecedented double extradition contest between Bosnia and Serbia, and a long legal battle in the U.K. courts.

Ganic is a true patriot. He returned to his country from America to enter political life. As deputy to Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, he chose to remain with his people during the war, enduring pain, cold and famine alongside them when he had every opportunity to enjoy a comfortable life elsewhere. Since 1995, he has sought — first, as a politician, then as an educator — to bring political stability and economic security back to his country.

Convinced that education is the future, in 2004, after an introduction to the University of Buckingham by Lady Thatcher, he entered into a joint venture and opened a new multi-ethnic, English-language university, the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology. The university offers both Bosnian and U.K. degrees. It’s ironic that Ganic was returning from Buckingham on the day of his arrest, having watched his second cohort of students enjoy their graduation ceremony.

Serbia has succeeded in creating maximum chaos, and expense, for both Ganic and the U.K. It’s a moral shame to abuse these extradition proceedings as a means of satisfying one state’s political insecurity, rousing the inter-ethnic conflict Ganic has struggled so courageously to counteract.

Mary Welstead is a visiting professor at the University of Buckingham. She has held similar appointments at McGill University in Montreal, the University of Cambridge U.K., and the University of Warwick U.K. From 2003 -2008 she helped set up the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology.

Swanee Hunt is the Eleanor Roosevelt Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Chair of the Institute for Inclusive Security. As U.S. ambassador to Austria (1993-1997), she hosted negotiations to stop the Balkan War. She is the author of "This Was Not Our War: Bosnian Women Reclaiming the Peace," and "Worlds Apart: the Bosnian Case in Pursuit of Global Security." Hunt is also an investor in GlobalPost.