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Saturday, 2 March, 2002, 12:16 GMT
Milosevic trial: Can justice be done?
The former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has accused Nato and the prosecutors at his war crimes trial of pursuing "an ocean of lies" with regard to the Kosovo conflict.
He is the first former head of state to be charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in the conflicts which followed the dissolution of Yugoslavia from 1991 to 1999.
Mr Milosevic has said he does not recognise the legitimacy of the UN tribunal or the charges against him, and has refused to appoint lawyers to defend him.
Will the trial achieve justice? Can it ever be a fair hearing? And can it close the bloody chapter of the 1990s Balkans wars?
For this Europewide Debate, Europe Today's Katya Adler brought together Misha Gavrilovic, a Serb of the Identical Criteria Society in London -- which demands equal treatment of Serbs before the law -- and first from the United States Professor Francis Boyle, the appointed attorney for the Mothers of Srebrenica and Podrinja.
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Jason Savelsberg, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
So far, and it is obviously early days, I have seen no evidence that in any way proves the charges against Milosevic. That Milosevic has been denied the opportunity to call his own witnesses merely demonstrates the one-sided nature of this 'show-trial'. And in case anyone has forgotten, was not the deliberate bombing of a civilian installation, namely Serbian TV in Belgrade and the murder of the civilians therein by Nato, a war-crime just as worthy of attention as the ones the Serbs are accused of. I look forward to seeing Blair and Clinton in the dock next.
Mr Milosevic is on trial for the alleged crimes that he committed as a head of his state. If he is denied the right to call witnesses of the same level from the other side - Clinton, Blair etc - this will demonstrate that this trial is no more than a vengeance of victors and a justification for their own actions.
I am a Brit who lived and worked in Belgrade during the 90's. I saw and lived through what happened in Yugoslavia, and some of the western media reports were laughable propaganda.
Unless you were overlooking Milosevic you don't know what happened. Of course he is due a fair trial and so should the Western leaders who bombed civilian targets in Belgrade.
Those who blame Milosevic for breaking up Yugoslavia, you don't know what you're talking about. The country was splitting up the moment Tito died.
Jetmir Bakija, Kosovo
There seems to be a crucial point that lots of people are missing. Slobodan Milosevic is not stupid. He took control of a country; don't let him take control of a court set to lock him away for the rest of his life. Going up against the court in The Hague by himself, he automatically presents himself as the underdog being persecuted by the West. The fact that the 3 witnesses he has requested have been denied while over 300 are being called against him further helps his case in this respect. How typical that the people who are doing the most to put this despicable man away are also the ones doing the most to help his case.
On Kosovo, Milosovic defended a province of his country from terrorist attack by the KLA as was expected of him as its leader. This was certainly justifiable from the Serbian point of view, in just the same way that the British government has justified the defence of Northern Ireland from the IRA for the last 50 years.
On Bosnia and Croatia, Milosovic kept contact with, and undoubtedly provided support, for some nasty types who fought small-scale wars against their neighbours for their own political purposes. No doubt he knew what they were doing but can he be held responsible for their atrocities? Should the US government be held responsible for all the atrocities carried out by the various nasty regimes that it has supported over the years?
He will try to manipulate the world as he always did. But I think justice will prevail in the end. And he will get what he deserves. But I wish he would serve the sentence in one of his own prisons and not such a comfortable suite. I think the trial is as fair as it can be and even too fair for such a coward!
Milosevic as the case may be is simply a victim of the West's double standards. There is no doubt that he was trying to defend his country from KLA terrorists who had resorted to killing Serb civilians and soldiers. I hope that he gets acquitted, but I have my doubt since both the prosecutors and judges are financed by his enemies.
The man will have his day in court. The evidence will provide the justification for a guilty verdict.
I am very please with the makeup of the court and the reputation and trust it holds.
Make no mistake about it; there are so many Milosevics out there. Once brought before this court, they will receive a fair trial.
After reading the comments I cannot believe the dismissive attitude towards the work of the Hague. The lack of intervention and apathy by the West is what allowed these crimes to happen in the first place, or perhaps you would of all rather Nato stood aside and watched as thousand of people were butchered to death? After visiting Yugoslavia myself I saw just a tiny fraction of the suffering of the people, including the Serbians themselves. The trial is entirely necessary and if those criticising it had heard and seen the things I saw they would hang their heads in shame.
His trial is ridiculous! The USA and Nato should be there for bombing hospitals, civilians, media stations and Albanians on their way back home. Everything was well planned for the break up of Yugoslavia. Milosevic did what any leader would do for his own country.
The fact that Milosevic only did what many leaders do doesn't mean that he is innocent. The fact that there may be guiltier people than him doesn't mean that he is innocent. The fact that Franjo Tudjman died before the court could catch up with him doesn't mean that Milosevic is innocent The fact that secret misdeeds by Western states probably won't emerge in public for at least another fifty years doesn't mean that Milosevic is innocent. The fact that media have already made up their minds about Milosevic's guilt doesn't mean that the court itself has made its mind about Milosevic's guilt. The fact that the prosecutor put the case for the prosecution doesn't mean that Milosevic has been found guilty.
So what would find him guilty?
Hard judicial evidence that he ordered war crimes to be committed.
Hard judicial evidence that he failed to sanction those under his command who he knew had committed war crimes.
These are the only two things that the Hague tribunal has any business to be concerned with.
Listening to the opening address of the prosecutor it seemed clear that the trial is more likely to be based on emotive commentary than provable facts. Whilst what happened in all these places was undoubtedly wicked and someone should pay for it, it does the greater world community no service if all such criminals are not brought before the courts.
Milosevic is no saint, let's make no mistake about that.
But Nato had no right to interfere in the conflict. It had no mandate to stage a war from anybody but its own officials.
If the organisation was so concerned about human rights, why doesn't it interfere in Turkey to help the Kurds or in Israel to help the Palestinians?
Has anybody been to Kosovo lately? Lawlessness and illegal drug trafficking haunt the province.
It took Nato less than 3 months to inflict more damage to the region than Milosevic did during his 14 year rule.
Darren Peat, UK
This tribunal will put the tyrant in a palace for the rest of his life; his victims on the other hand are either dead or traumatised. The only penalty should be execution. Give him what he gave his victims.
Distasteful as Milosovic is, this trial is as much about Nato trying to justify its actions as it is about punishing Milosovic. If he is guilty then I hope he goes down for a very long time, but if he could take down some of Nato's protagonists with him then that would be even better.
Does anyone honestly believe that there is a remote possibility of Nato leaders answering charges for indiscriminate killing of civilians in Yugoslavia? This is a show trial because it is taking place to 'show' that the western politicians, media and armchair generals were right. It is there to exonerate Nato leaders for aggression, journalists for racial slurs and 'humanitarians' for warmongering.
The trial set up is not perfect. But then that's the real world. War always makes it difficult for anyone to truly command the moral high ground in all respects. However let us not forget the reason this whole sad and degrading business came about. The Serbian president refused to co-operate with international forums aimed at bringing peace and fairness to a region bedevilled with cruelty and suffering of innocent people.
Atrocities were being committed all the time western politicians were trying broker a political solution. This power hungry rogue forced the US and Nato into war with all the inevitable consequences. I refer of course to their mistakes when non-military targets were hit. But at least they were mistakes that Nato forces regretted and tried to avoid. The same cannot be said of the man now in the dock arrogantly trying to dismiss the whole proceedings.
Mr Milosevic is now in this clutches of the shoddy so-called 'tribunal' and is unlikely to emerge a free man, on the balance of probabilities. From a historical point of there is no doubt where the blame for the wars in the former Yugoslavia lies- with the West. It was plainly unbearable to have a substantial semi-Socialist state in the heart of Europe following on the demise of communism so the eternal imperial principle was brought into play- divide and rule!
One furtive little secession after another to smash up the Yugoslav Federation.
Followed by the physical smashing up of Serbia. The whole of this accompanied by a skilful propaganda campaign with never a good word to say about Serbia and the Serbs.
As the late Alan Clark was to say 'What have the Serbs ever done to us?' Milosevic is just the fall guy for all this. If the trial is going to last two years let's have them all there, Clinton, Blair, Chirac, Genscher, Carrington, Robertson, Jamie Shea etc; but not the soldiers - they are relatively innocent.
It`s just like a dream when a powerful dictator
like Milosevic goes to trial but there is one thing I would like to say.. namely why whole the world forgets about a nation like the Kurds?
Jonathan Nwaroh, The Netherlands
The Hague tribunal is just another weapon for Nato and the USA to be used to attack whoever they want whenever they want. Mr Milosevic should face his own people for whatever crimes he has done, not some monkey trial putting on a show of being fair and just in some other country. Personally I think Milosevic should be found guilty of his crimes but now thanks to the excuse used by Bush to kill innocent Afghanis and set up base there in order to exploit it for its resources, Milosevic is claiming that he was defending his country from "terrorism".
To Pantelis, Greece: You must really be struggling to find a role model. Those "evil powers" may have ended a genocide supported by Milosevic. Perhaps you should think some more about the difference between patriotism and nationalism.
All the Nato members have committed war crimes in the bombing of Yugoslavia.The US is waging a war on terrorism world wide, yet Milosevic is accused of waging war against the KLA, which was labelled by the CIA as a terrorist organization. As the facts take shape Milosevic cannot be guilty.
The whole thing is just a dirty political game, with financial interests on the part of the US and Nato countries. It is found that there is immense wealth in the region of Kosovo, with huge deposits of coal, copper and other minerals which will be divided between these waring countries after the war. So Milosovic was right in protecting the interests of his country away from the western war mongers. So the ultimate reason for all this bombing is to humiliate the Serbs and loot their wealth.
Seeing that the 'International Court of Justice' has ruled that an ex minister cannot be prosecuted for war crimes, because he has 'diplomatic immunity', how will this reflect on the Milosevic trial? Perhaps his suggestions that this trial is illegal are true?
How dare they put Milosevic on trial. If there are questions that Milosevic has done something then he should be judged by the Yugoslav people not the Hague. The Hague itself is totally illegal.
Putting a president of one small nation in prison for life will not solve anything and will not help anyone, it will only show how the international law of this planet is uninformed and one-sided. Slobodan
Milosevic was a patriot and he defended what truly represents Yugolsavia and its people, and to take our culture, customs and our land, Kosovo, would be an unimaginable crime to
people who live or have lived there. Kosovo is Yugoslavia, and everything there represents Serbian people and culture, and if anyone takes that, it would be the same as if
someone ripped a heart from a human being.
Even if the trial in The Hague is not completely fair, the fact that Milosevic is even being dealt in some way is a step in the right direction for the world community.
This trial is just another opportunity for Nato to humiliate the Serbian people for not playing by their rules. Personally I feel The Hague is nothing more than a kangaroo court.
Stephen Davey, UK
I thought the procedure was for the prosecution to assemble the bulk of its supporting evidence before a case goes to trial. In the case of Milosevic that hasn't happened and hard supporting evidence is apparently very hard to find. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the prosecution team ends up with egg on its face and Milosevic walks away with a grin on his.
The whole trial is a farce, the outcome is in no doubt. Guilty or not there is no way Milosevic will escape the guilty verdict, the international community has already made up it's mind.
As far as I'm aware, the war crimes tribunal still actively seeks the arrest and detention of numerous Croats and Bosnian Muslims who are suspected war criminals, so the argument that Serbians are being singled out for punishment has no foundation. The fact of the matter is that all sides in the Yugoslavian conflicts committed atrocities, but by far the worst crimes were committed by armies or militias professing loyalty to Milosevic. His trial must be conducted in a transparent and fair manner, and if he is found guilty, he must spend the rest of his life in prison.
Mahesh Chandra Somani, Finland
I think there is a strong issue of jurisdiction here. Is it acceptable for a former ruler of a country to be taken and placed on trial for his/her actions while in power? Does this mean the people in power in other nations have to look over their shoulders to make sure they do not take actions that will antagonise the Western world?
Would the Eastern nations be justified in placing Mr Bush on trial after he has finished his bombings of Afghanistan and the other targets he has said will follow and has left office?
Is it not down to a simple national point-of-view, and thus to the strength of the nation?
While I believe that Milosevic has to answer to someone it should be to the people in his own country.
Reading stories about my country really hurts and makes one sad. Whether Mr. Milosevic is guilty or not - this is irrelevant. He was acting like any other president in this world defending his country and land. I grew up not knowing a difference between being Serbian, Croatian or Muslim we were all one. Our country was beautiful thanks to all the different nationalities that made it one. Kosovo is a true landmark that the Serbs fought for and lost a lot of their lives back to the Turkish rule. I came to the US and live here abiding by the laws of this country, speaking the language that is spoken here and respecting everyone around me. Albanians in Kosovo should also live by abiding the laws of the country and the language spoken in that country. The world has made the Serbian people out to be the worst In war a lot of people get killed hurt and raped, not just Muslim or Croatian. Why has the world forgot about all the Serbians that were raped and massacred? This war was because of politics not religion. I wish it never happened and all my friends that are Serbian, Croatian and Muslim say the same: one who loves, loves and can never hate. The people that killed never loved and I feel sorry for all of them.
Masood Baggia, UK
Justice must be seen to be active, the alternative would be to do nothing!
Can we ever be sure of a fair trial when the media coverage is so extensive? How can we ever guarantee a fair trial when the international community has already formed an opinion?
Who is standing trial for the deaths of civilians in Serbia as a result of NATO bombing?
Michael Entill, UK
I feel sorry for former President Milosevic. It's his country, he can make any rules he wants for as long as he is the leader. He is just protecting his country and wants to make it great. Why don't these jealous countries like Albania look after their own country and stop causing trouble in other parts of former Yugoslav states?
Allison Ntuba, Famagusta, Cyprus, Cameroon
Milosevic presided over a nation where murderous thuggery was a daily hazard of life, but if this is to be true justice then numerous political leaders, past and present, both from the Balkans and from those countries engaged in the alliance against terrorism will be indicted over the next five years for crimes against humanity. They won't be, so you have your answer about this 'court'. It has been constituted by a subset of global protagonists for their own ends.
I totally agree that Milosevic should be tried in The Hague because he used the cheap excuse of "chasing terrorists" to kill innocent Albanians in Kosovo. And I sincerely hope that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia will try George W. Bush as soon as possible to show it is really fair and not a political instrument, since Bush also used the same excuse to kill innocent people in Afghanistan. My boyfriend is from Afghanistan and many of his cousins died from American bombs.
James Clarke, UK
Somebody authorised the atrocities. If he's guilty of it, he should pay.
I could not care less if Mr Milosevic receives a fair trial or not.
On the 27 September 1991 my husband, two children aged 12 and four and I left Belgrade in search of haven from the madness that raged the former Yugoslavia. Do you think anybody cared about fairness for people like us that are now scattered far away from our families?
I am appalled that so many armchair experts condemn a man before his trial has even begun. Guilty or innocent is for God to decide. But it looks increasingly in this world that God is pushed to the back seat so that man can do what he wants either by pretending that God has decreed it (without proof)or just to get revenge.
At long last many leaders are beginning to realise that the time that they did whatever suited their fancy are over. And that they will be called upon to answer in the fullness of time. However Milosevic deserves a hearing. International chorus about his guilt justifies his anger and refusal to recognise the tribunal. If nothing at all, it will help us unravel what makes some people behave the way they do.
Daniel B Rego, USA
There were two sides in the war. Both commit atrocities. The leader of one side faces international justice, and rightly so. But the leaders of the other side get off scot-free. What's wrong with this picture?
Milosevic waged a war against Muslim peoples and the world did not stop him until he had finished his job. Now they want to punish him. This is why so many Muslims are so angry with the West.
Adnan Mesic, Boston, USA
He'll probably get away with it on technicalities which have to be observed to be just. The justice system must itself afford Milosevic the benefits that he never afforded his victims.
Milosevic has been singled out to bear sole responsibility for all the bloodshed perpetrated by people on all sides in the former Yugoslavia. It's not right to heap responsibility upon one person for such a messy and chaotic catastrophe. As many other messages here demonstrate, Milosevic has already been judged guilty by many people. It's impossible to give him a fair trial under such circumstances. He should be released.
To Natassia: To advocate the release of a known war criminal will set a damaging precedent of hypocrisy, especially to the Muslim people, who were the biggest victims of Milosevic's alleged ethnic cleansing.
The former president of the US has to be called in to give evidence if this is to be a fair trial.
Daniel R Zim, Alexandria, VA, USA
Too bad the Hague Tribunal does not have the power to give him the death sentence. Apparently Milosevic had the right to take the lives of hundreds of thousands in Kosova, Bosnia, and Croatia without fear of reprisals.
I just want to give my support to my president. He is the only person who has been fighting for justice and peace in the Balkans.
Mr Milosevic may very well be guilty of the crimes that the tribunal alleges that he committed in the 1990s. However, one still cannot applaud the double standards of the actions of the international community with respect to delivering justice. The international community tries Milosevic but not the Muslim or Croat leaders for similar alleged atrocities. One wonders whether we should stand behind the international community in the few cases where it delivers or tries to deliver justice when it intentionally disregards many more other cases, thus committing an even greater injustice.
Whether it is an elected head of state or a madman, everyone must account for the lives they take. Milosevic must be made an example to other alleged tyrants around the world that justice will one day catch up with them. There should be no immunity whatsoever.
This case angers me so much it makes my eyes water. There should be global vote on the verdict and then justice will be assured.
Marko, London, UK
The war crimes tribunal is not a legitimate court any more than the international court because there is no due process or jury. Besides, what has Milosevic done that the other so-called leaders of the world haven't?
This is a blatant case of a political court. Why is the UN tribunal charging an ex-president of a country that was attacked by NATO without
the consent of the UN? If the indictment was not a political matter,
why was it revealed during the NATO bombing of Serbia?
Secondly, in a climate where much of the world is intent upon combating international terror, this trial can set a precedent for trying war criminals and international terrorists in a manner that reflects a commitment to international justice.
The trial of Milosevic will hopefully result in a just and righteous outcome, and will also persuade all governments holding international war criminals and terrorists to try them through internationally recognised war crimes tribunals, as established in the Hague.
Ruth Gilbert, UK
This trial is very necessary, it should send a warning to others of the same mind, but it should be demonstrated that all those guilty of crimes against humanity should be treated the same.
It's a fantastic event and I hope it will bring justice and give a good lesson for whoever wants to be the next Milosevic
Regretfully, I believe that this trial will fail and mark the end to the credibility of the process. Milosevic could have prevented the worst of the excesses in the Balkans but chose not to. However, I don't believe that there is sufficient credible evidence to satisfy a court of law of his guilt as charged. It would have served justice better if the court had first brought those closer to the acts of genocide before the court rather than attempting this action against Milosevic where there doesn't appear to be the direct credible evidence necessary to secure certain conviction. The court in The Hague must, above all else, maintain its integrity as a place where justice is done and not a kangaroo court where victor's justice is expedited.
Life in prison for Milosevic will be a holiday package compared to what he had offered to his victims. The true justice will never be served but then, who said that life is fair. The nearest that it can get to justice will be, only if ALL of Milosevic collaborators are brought to trial too.
I think that Milosevic should go on jail for the rest of his life because is a criminal and the world can't accept people like him.
Martin Carrette, Belgium
It should be a fair hearing. His actions were blatant. Any honest human being knows what this man is capable of and they should lock him up and throw away the key.
It can never be a fair trial for number
of reasons. Mr Milosevic was
kidnapped from his country to The
Hague in clear violation of Yugoslav
laws. Mr Tudjman and Mr Izetbegovic
were not accused
of similar crimes done by their
respective sides, for which The Hague
was given clear evidence. The question
of war crimes against civilians
committed by NATO member
states during the bombing of Yugoslavia
was also not put before the court,
although it was brought before
Yugoslav courts two years ago.
This is a victor's trial, not a fair trial.
It lays very fine precedent for the
12 Feb 02 | Europe
Landmark Milosevic trial opens
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