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Friday, 8 February, 2002, 17:06 GMT
The legal battle ahead
Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic
Milosevic refuses to recognise the tribunal in The Hague
The trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is expected to be an epic legal battle that could run for months, if not years.

Mr Milosevic faces charges relating to atrocities carried out in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo - they will all be heard in a single trial after the prosecution successfully argued that his alleged crimes in all three conflicts were part of a master plan to create a Greater Serbia.


[The trial] will be a real test to see if the judges that have been appointed to this international criminal body can rise above the politics of their own countries and deliver justice

Human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson
The case against Mr Milosevic looks like a strong one, but proving it in a court is another matter.

And despite what many see as Mr Milosevic's demonisation in the West, he is still innocent until proven guilty.

There are questions about the strength of the evidence against Mr Milosevic.

The accusations

The charges against Mr Milosevic, filed in three separate indictments - one for each conflict - are the following:

  • Genocide
  • Crimes against humanity
  • Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions
  • Violations of the laws or customs of war

Carla Del Ponte, UN tribunal chief prosecutor
Carla Del Ponte, the tribunal prosecutor, visits a mass grave in Kosovo
Of these, genocide is the most serious crime, and is only included in the Bosnia indictment.

Prosecutors say they are confident they can prove that Mr Milosevic was responsible for the "widespread killing of thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats" between 1992 and 1995.

In the case of Croatia, the indictment says that among other crimes, Mr Milosevic is behind the murders of hundreds of civilians and the expulsion of about 170,000 non-Serbs from their home towns between 1991 and 1992.

Mr Milosevic and four of his colleagues - according to the Kosovo indictment - also bear direct responsibility for the deportation of 800,000 Kosovo Albanians and the murders of about 600 individually identified ethnic Albanians in 1999.

To read more about the charges, click here

Difficult task

The ability of the tribunal to try such an important figure as Mr Milosevic in a way that is perceived to be transparent and fair is very important for the process of international justice.


There is no convincing evidence whatsoever that he is guilty of any crime or atrocity... unless they concoct it

Christopher Black of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic
And, observers say, the prosecution faces many difficulties ahead.

Analysts say genocide, as defined by the 1948 UN convention, is difficult to prove. So far, eight people have been convicted for their role in the Rwandan genocide, one for the war in Bosnia.

Another problem in the charges relating to Bosnia and Croatia is that the alleged crimes were committed when Mr Milosevic was President of Serbia.

As such, he had no formal legal responsibility for the activities of either the Yugoslav or Serb paramilitaries in those two republics.

But the Croatia and Bosnia indictments declare Mr Milosevic to be a "co-perpetrator" in criminal acts committed there with the intention of creating a Serb-dominated state.

Similarly with the charges relating to Kosovo, legal analysts say the prosecution will have to establish Mr Milosevic's "command responsibility" for the war crimes in Kosovo.

At the time, Mr Milosevic was president of Yugoslavia and commander-in-chief of the federal army.

The Hague prosecutors will have to prove that Mr Milosevic knew and approved of the killings and ethnic cleansing, or that he knew about them but did not take steps to stop them.

Proving the case

Prosecutors are expected to rely on documentary evidence, the testimony of witnesses, and communication intercepts in the case of Kosovo - probably provided by Nato - to secure their case.

Tribunal facts
Established by the Security Council in 1993
Has jurisdiction over individuals responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in the former Yugoslavia since 1990
Cannot try suspects in absentia
Maximum sentence is life imprisonment
Longest sentence so far: 45 years prison for former Bosnian Croat general Tahoma Blaskic
Most prominent indicted suspects: Milosevic, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, his military commander Ratko Mladic

So far, thousands of bodies have been exhumed from mass graves in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, and together the indictments list thousands of civilians murdered in the three wars.

Prosecutors have said they will call up to 30 political insiders to give evidence linking Mr Milosevic to the atrocities committed in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.

But some reports have cast doubt on whether the prosecution has enough witnesses to make its case after key political figures in Serbia denied they would appear.

Defenders of Mr Milosevic argue that the evidence against him is flimsy.

And reports suggest that Serbian forces destroyed proof of atrocities, which would make it difficult for the prosecution to make its case.

Speaking about the Kosovo indictment, Christopher Black, a Canadian criminal lawyer and member of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic, told the BBC: "There is no convincing evidence whatsoever that he is guilty of any crime or atrocity whatsoever.

"There is no evidence going to be found against him unless they concoct it. I looked the man right in the eye, a man I have never met before, and he looked me straight in the eye and did not blink.

"I believe him. I have been a criminal lawyer for 25 years and I have spoken to a lot of witnesses - I know when a man is telling the truth," Mr Black said.

Tactics

The former Yugoslav leader has refused to appoint a defence counsel, and has appeared before the international tribunal without legal representation.

He has repeatedly said that he regards the court and its indictment as illegal and false, and therefore has refused to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.

Mr Milosevic has rejected his trial as being "politically motivated".

The presiding judge, as the rules of the tribunal require, has entered pleas of not guilty on Mr Milosevic's behalf.


At The Hague

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