Lunogled 2012-06-02 01:34:25
The Milosevic trial is a travesty
Political necessity dictates that the former Yugoslavian leader will
be found guilty – even if the evidence doesn’t
Thursday February 12, 2004
It is two years today that the trial of Slobodan Milosevic opened at
The Hague. The chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, was triumphant as
she announced the 66 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity
and genocide that the former Yugoslavian president was charged with.
CNN was among those who called it “the most important trial since
Nuremburg” as the prosecution outlined the “crimes of medieval
savagery” allegedly committed by the “butcher of Belgrade”.
But since those heady days, things have gone horribly wrong for Ms Del
Ponte. The charges relating to the war in Kosovo were expected to be
the strongest part of her case. But not only has the prosecution
signally failed to prove Milosevic’s personal responsibility for
atrocities committed on the ground, the nature and extent of the
atrocities themselves has also been called into question.
Numerous prosecution witnesses have been exposed as liars – such as
Bilall Avdiu, who claimed to have seen “around half a dozen mutilated
bodies” at Racak, scene of the disputed killings that triggered the
US-led Kosovo war. Forensic evidence later confirmed that none of the
bodies had been mutilated. Insiders who we were told would finally
spill the beans on Milosevic turned out to be nothing of the kind.
Rade Markovic, the former head of the Yugoslavian secret service,
ended up testifying in favour of his old boss, saying that he had been
subjected to a year and a half of “pressure and torture” to sign a
statement prepared by the court. Ratomir Tanic, another “insider”, was
shown to have been in the pay of British intelligence.
When it came to the indictments involving the wars in Bosnia and
Croatia, the prosecution fared little better. In the case of the worst
massacre with which Milosevic has been accused of complicity – of
between 2,000 and 4,000 men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995 – Del
Ponte’s team have produced nothing to challenge the verdict of the
five-year inquiry commissioned by the Dutch government – that there
was “no proof that orders for the slaughter came from Serb political
leaders in Belgrade”.
T o bolster the prosecution’s flagging case, a succession of
high-profile political witnesses has been wheeled into court. The most
recent, the US presidential hopeful and former Nato commander Wesley
Clark, was allowed, in violation of the principle of an open trial, to
give testimony in private, with Washington able to apply for removal
of any parts of his evidence from the public record they deemed to be
against US interests.
For any impartial observer, it is difficult to escape the conclusion
that Del Ponte has been working backwards – making charges and then
trying to find evidence. Remarkably, in the light of such breaches of
due process, only one western human rights organisation, the British
Helsinki Group, has voiced concerns. Richard Dicker, the trial’s
observer for Human Rights Watch, announced himself “impressed” by the
prosecution’s case. Cynics might say that as George Soros, Human
Rights Watch’s benefactor, finances the tribunal, Dicker might not be
expected to say anything else.
Judith Armatta, an American lawyer and observer for the Coalition for
International Justice (another Soros-funded NGO) goes further,
gloating that “when the sentence comes and he disappears into that
cell, no one is going to hear from him again. He will have ceased to
exist”. So much then for those quaint old notions that the aim of a
trial is to determine guilt. For Armatta, Dicker and their backers, it
seems that Milosevic is already guilty as charged.
Terrible crimes were committed in the Balkans during the 90s and it is
right that those responsible are held accountable in a court of law.
But the Hague tribunal, a blatantly political body set up and funded
by the very Nato powers that waged an illegal war against Milosevic’s
Yugoslavia four years ago – and that has refused to consider the prima
facie evidence that western leaders were guilty of war crimes in that
conflict – is clearly not the vehicle to do so.
Far from being a dispenser of impartial justice, as many progressives
still believe, the tribunal has demonstrated its bias in favour of the
economic and military interests of the planet’s most powerful nations.
Milosevic is in the dock for getting in the way of those interests
and, regardless of what has gone on in court, political necessity
dictates that he will be found guilty, if not of all the charges, then
enough for him to be incarcerated for life. The affront to justice at
The Hague over the past two years provides a sobering lesson for all
those who pin so much hope on the newly established international
The US has already ensured that it will not be subject to that court’s
jurisdiction. Members of the UN security council will have the power
to impede or suspend its investigations. The goal of an international
justice system in which the law would be applied equally to all is a
fine one. But in a world in which some states are clearly more equal
than others, its realisation looks further away than ever.
* Neil Clark is a writer specialising in east European and Balkan