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Tuesday, 12 February, 2002, 17:09 GMT
The Milosevic Trial
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Slobodan Milosevic's trial as a war criminal begins on Tuesday 12 February.

Mr Milosevic has refused to appoint lawyers to defend him in the court, as he says he does not recognize the authority of the UN tribunal.

He has told a lawyer: "They can lock me up, they can convict me, but they can never break my spirit. He has been described as 'fighting fit' and prepared to face the tribunal.

What are the legal arguments around the trial? Should Slobodan Milosevic be charged with crimes against humanity and violation of the laws and custom of war? Can there be such a thing as a 'fair' war crimes trial?

The BBC's Peter Biles put your questions to Richard Dicker, the International Justice Director of Human Rights at The Hague.


The topics discussed in this forum were:

  • A fair trial?
  • Others responsible for war crimes
  • Bill Clinton and other key witnesses
  • Victor's court?

    A fair trial?


    Peter Biles:

    Shannon Goodricke UK, (South African): How does the Tribunal propose to guarantee a fair trial when Mr Milosevic will neither defend himself nor appoint counsel to act on his behalf?


    Richard Dicker

    This trial has just begun. The tribunal here has a track record of seven or eight years in practice and over that period of time we have seen a basic commitment to fairness by this institution. So we've got confidence that they will do all that they can to ensure a fair trial. But I think it will be a very difficult complicated process as the question states. Mr Milosevic is not represented by legal counsel. But I think it's important to understand that that was his choice. He had the right to seek counsel or the right defend himself - he chose the latter and that is the exercise of the right to defence that the court has recognised. I think it will make it more difficult for the judges to maintain order and decorum but at the same time see that the rights of the accused are respected in what will be a very lengthy trial.


    Peter Biles:

    Has he made it more difficult for himself?


    Richard Dicker

    Certainly these are complicated international criminal charges. Mr Milosevic, whatever other skills he has, was not trained as a criminal attorney. One would think that he would want the benefit of criminal attorneys at his side in the courtroom to respond to the charges and for witness in the prosecution's case. So, yes, I think he has made it more difficult for himself.

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    Others responsible for war crimes


    Peter Biles:

    Pavle Milutinovic, USA: I would like to know why the other national leaders responsible for war crimes in the Balkans, namely Franjo Tudjman and Alija Izetbegovic and their subordinates, were never indicted by the tribunal? They were no better than Milosevic: tens of thousands of Serbs were killed by their forces. Where is justice for these victims?


    Richard Dicker

    A fair question and good point. I was struck today in the opening statement by Carla del Ponte - her addressing the Serbian victims of the Balkan wars. Serbian victims whose lives were lost, whose homes were lost, who were displaced as a result of the process Milosevic set in motion. I think undoubtedly Serbians suffered in this war but frankly all the research Human Rights Watch has done - the conclusion that we draw is that the overwhelming number of victims were Bosnian Muslims, Croatians and Kosovo Albanians. While indeed there were Serb victims who suffered in all those places and suffered horribly, their numbers pale compared to those of the other ethnicities who were the victims of serious ethnic cleansing.

    There have been senior Croatian officials tried by this court. One of them General Tihomir Blaskic was sentenced to 46 years in prison for his role in crimes conducted against Serbs in Croatia. There are Bosnian Muslims for sentence before this court. So I think it's inaccurate to say this is simply a tribunal directed against Serbs or Serbian leaders. I think it is unfortunate Tudjman was not indicted but you cannot indict someone who is dead.

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    Bill Clinton and other key witnesses


    Peter Biles:

    Milan Djuric, Melbourne, Australia: What are legal aspects of Mr Milosevic calling Bill Clinton and other key witnesses? Is he going to have fair treatment if, by any chance, Mr Clinton and those other witnesses will not participate in the trial?


    Richard Dicker

    I think the standard for witnesses coming to the trial and testifying in court is whether or not their testimony is relevant to the specific criminal charges that the accused - whether it's Milosevic or anyone else being tried here - faces. So Milosevic will have to demonstrate that he wants Bill Clinton or Tony Blair in this courtroom because the testimony that he seeks to elicit from them will have direct bearing on his innocence under these specific charges. He will not be able to summon Tony Blair and Bill Clinton here because he wants to engage in a political discussion with them about conversations he may have had with them at some point around the world. The standard must be whether Bill Clinton or anyone else can provide relevant evidence. If so then the judges will have to figure out a way to accommodate Mr Milosevic so his right to a defence is respected.


    Peter Biles:

    Does the court have the power of subpoena because there seems to be some dispute about this?


    Richard Dicker

    It is hotly contested and I'm glad you mentioned this. This court's power of subpoena is hotly contested and actually bears on the previous question. This tribunal tried to subpoena the Croatian Ministry of Defence and the Croatian Minister of Defence. The Croatian Government contested that and at the end of the day, its subpoena power was quite limited. Now subpoena could be quite different than a summons for the witness to testify. We'll have to see what shape this takes.

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    A victor's court?


    Peter Biles:

    Darragh Farrell, Irish Republic: Is the Hague court to be seen as a credible body, or is it seen as a victor's court?


    Richard Dicker

    An important question. I think that it's important to remember that this court was created by the United Nations Security Council in 1993 with a mandate to investigate and try war crimes, crimes against humanity and serious violations of the laws of war. In our observation monitoring of this tribunal over the last eight years, our conclusion is that it is basically committed to seeing the accused getting a fair trial. We don't regard this tribunal as a kangaroo court. That's not to say that there haven't been mistakes that errors haven't occurred. But I don't know of any court in the world that is perfect and beyond reproach in terms of certain errors. I think basically this is a court that operates according to the highest standards of international law. This will be a difficult trial. It will certainly pose challenges for the judges to apply the rules of the court in a way that assures both an orderly process but also most importantly respect for Milosevic's rights to a fair trial.

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  • At The Hague

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    11 Feb 02 | Forum
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