Milosevic 'May Escape Conviction for Genocide'

Roundup: Media's Take

Adam LeBor, writing in the Times (London) (Feb. 25, 2004)

Slobodan Milosevic spends his free time at the United Nations detention centre in The Hague reading John Grisham thrillers and listening to Frank Sinatra. His choice of music is appropriate.

During the two years of his trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the former Serbian President has been doing things his way.

He refuses to recognise the tribunal's legitimacy or to appoint a defence counsel, although he is aided by legal teams in The Hague and in Belgrade. From the dock of the heavily protected Court No 1, he has personally cross-examined most of the 298 witnesses produced by the prosecution: survivors of massacres, former paramilitaries, historians, diplomats, journalists, politicians and some who have testified in closed session to protect their identities.

Now, with the prosecution about to complete its case, observers believe that he might escape conviction on the most serious charge of genocide.

In another blow for a trial already well behind schedule, Richard May, the presiding judge, has announced his resignation on health grounds from May 31, around the time that Mr Milosevic is likely to begin his defence. His replacement will have to be briefed on thousands of pages of evidence and testimony. That, and inevitable attempts by Mr Milosevic to secure a retrial, could delay the process for several more months....

...In court he has proved combative and pugnacious, although generally respectful to the judges who have the power to turn his microphone off when he launches into harangues about the broad sweep of Balkan history.

He has relished his duels with high-profile witnesses, including Lord Owen, the European Union's former envoy to Yugoslavia, Wesley Clark, the former Nato commander, and Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, the international community's High Representative in Bosnia. Nevertheless, for all his grandstanding, Mr Milosevic remains a prisoner, the first head of state to be charged with genocide.

In an interview with The Times, Tim McFadden, head of the UN detention unit, said that the man once known as the"Butcher of Belgrade" spends each evening with his lawyer, preparing for the next day."They go over the evidence. He takes some exercise and has a sleep. He sometimes works until midnight."

The prosecution must prove that the former President of Serbia and Yugoslavia had command responsibility for the Serb forces that committed atrocities and ethnic cleansing: that he planned or ordered these events, or knew about them and failed to stop them; or that he failed to punish those responsible.

Most informed opinion holds that Mr Milosevic is likely to be found guilty of crimes against humanity in Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia....

...High-level insider witnesses have laid out in detail the connections between Belgrade and the battlefield, and the prosecution has produced extremely incriminating telephone intercepts.

Yet repeated attempts to link Mr Milosevic directly to the Srebrenica massacre of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys, Europe's worst postwar atrocity, have floundered for lack of concrete evidence. General Clark testified that Mr Milosevic had foreknowledge of the plans by General Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb commander, to slaughter the Muslims. Mr Milosevic dismissed General Clark's testimony as"a blatant lie".

Stacy Sullivan, The Hague bureau chief for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, said:"The prosecution may not succeed with the charge of genocide. But it has proved a connection between Milosevic and the Bosnian Serb leadership and the paramilitaries who carried out the ethnic cleansing. It has undermined his defence that he had no authority over Bosnian Serbs."

Once the prosecution has finished, the court will adjourn for three months. Six weeks before his defence starts, Mr Milosevic is required to submit his list of witnesses.

He has said already that he will call Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and General Clark to the stand. This scenario could prove highly embarrassing for Western leaders who courted the Serbian leader while he was in power. The trial could stretch well into 2006, with a verdict as late as 2007.

In the meantime, according to Mr McFadden, Mr Milosevic is a"stabilising influence" on the Serb, Croat and Muslim prisoners being held at the UN's detention centre. The three groups proved incapable of sharing a country, but, within the confines of the centre in the Netherlands, ethnic tension is extremely rare.

Detainees are held in comparative comfort in single cells. The centre has a gym and kitchen and receives cable television from Belgrade, Zagreb and Sarajevo, as well as international channels.

"He does not give us any trouble," Mr McFadden said."He is an intelligent man and he understands our role in the judicial process -that we are a remand centre." However, Mr Milosevic has been hit hard by the absence of his wife and lifetime love, Mira Markovic. The had been together since the 1950s. He has not seen her for more than a year, since she fled, probably to Moscow, after Serbian police tried to interview her in connection with the murder in 2000 of Ivan Stambolic, once Mr Milosevic's best friend and mentor....

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