Several years ago I had the opportunity to attend the International Court Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. I was on Semester at Sea, and one of the law professors had a connection to the United Nations that allowed us to witness the trial of former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic. The Milosevic Trial began each morning at 9:00 and ended at 1:45. We went through security and attended the session after their lunch recess. A glass wall separated the gallery from the actual court; and we wore headphones connected to a Multilanguage radio for translation of the dayʼs proceedings.
Milosevic chose to represent himself and was in the middle of cross-examination of a Mr. Markovic, his former Chief of Information. Everyone, with the exception of the accused, witness, clerk and security were fully robed. The three judges, from Rwanda, Britain, and Japan, wore a red sash to differentiate them from the rest of the court. Each sat fully distinguished with gray hair and glasses. The panel of prosecutors was positioned to our right and Mr. Milosevic on our left. A council of interpreters sat above the court in closed boxes while everyone in the court and gallery wore headphones. And there I was, a small-town West Texas boy, witnessing the first head of state to ever stand trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Newspapers sterilize acts of genocide–reporting numbers and names. We typically skim the story and go on to read the next article. But being there—actually hearing and seeing the evidence of mass graves, mass emigration and a refrigerator truck full of corpses—took me aback. I began to observe Milosevic to the finest detail: how he reacted; how he moved; how he breathed. I could only wonder what he thought. Then without warning, it hit me. My breath was taken away for a quick moment as I realized that the accused was a human being. And then the scarier revelation: I am, too. And if this man, who breathes, eats, and moves as I do, can commit these crimes against humanity; then under the same circumstances and environment, I am completely capable of doing the same thing.
Rational beings donʼt like to think of ourselves as capable of such evil so we try to detect something about him that separates him from mankind – that makes him ʻsatan.ʼ Surely their should be horns and a tail somewhere?
I went to the trial expecting to see an evil monster; instead, I saw a pudgy old man in a suit. What I saw was scarier than a monster of evil. What I saw was a man. A man just like me. A man created in the image of God, just like me. A man who was broken, just like me. And that was scarier than seeing any monster on trial.
Genuine compassion is the recognition of someone else as a human being. It is the ultimate act of humility because it recognizes my own imperfection as it recognizes yours—and it judges neither. Compassion can remain regardless of acts or attitude. You can still recognize evil, but through the eyes of compassion, evil is no longer attached to a person. As St. Gregory of Nyssa writes, “Man is not manʼs enemy…for how can the image of good be evil?”
It is from this place of non-judgment and compassion that allows you to serve as Jesus served.
Leading up to the 2014 Texas Student Leadership Forum, we plan to post one blog per week centered around the four tenets of the Forum. We invite anyone to contribute to the discussion – please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in writing. The application for the 2014 Forum can be found here.