Milosevic won't get to the
By Jan Oberg, TFF
Western politicians insist that Slobodan Milosevic
must be brought to the Hague Tribunal and stand trial as
a war criminal. Media and commentators raise the issue
time and again. But there are reasons to believe that
this is make-believe. The indictment of Milosevic leaves
much to be explained - for instance, why he is indicted
only for crimes committed in 1999 but not before - and
certain Western countries would hardly want him to be on
record in the Hague with a few things that he may know
about them. The West would therefore do wise to drop this
issue now and let Yugoslavia deal with Milosevic.
It seems that few have bothered to read the text of
the indictment of Milosevic and four other high-level
government officials of Thursday May 27, 1999. Among
other things it states:
"As pointed out by Justice Arbour in her application
to Judge Hunt, "this indictment is the first in the
history of this Tribunal to charge a Head of State during
an on-going armed conflict with the commission of serious
violations of international humanitarian law".
The indictment alleges that, between 1 January and
late May 1999, forces under the control of the five
accused persecuted the Kosovo Albanian civilian
population on political, racial or religious grounds. By
the date of the indictment, approximately 740,000 Kosovo
Albanians, about one-third of the entire Kosovo Albanian
population, had been expelled from Kosovo. Thousands more
are believed to be internally displaced. An unknown
number of Kosovo Albanians have been killed in the
operations by forces of the FRY and Serbia. Specifically,
the five indictees are charged with the murder of over
340 persons identified by name in an annex to the
Each of the accused is charged with three counts of
crimes against humanity and one count of violations of
the laws or customs of war."
Limited indictment and dubious
As will be seen, Milosevic is indicted for activities
limited to the period January 1 and late May 1999, i.e.
during the local war between Kosovo-Albanian forces
(KLA/UCK) and various Serb/Yugoslav forces and for
activities during NATO's bombings which started on March
24 and went on for 78 days.
At the time the Tribunal could not know any precise
facts or numbers. What we do know today from public,
reliable sources is that a considerable part of the
information about killings and ethnic cleansing was
exaggerated or false. At the time of the indictment,
facts could not be verified by independent sources as
there were virtually nobody on the ground - except
presumably intelligence people. OSCE observers have
stated that there was nothing going on as long as the
Verifier's mission was present (up to the bombing) that
could be defined as a systematic ethnic cleansing
campaign. Documents revealing the existence of the much
talked-about "Operation Horseshoe" have not been brought
The wording is also doubtful. Sure, some were
"expelled" - but how did the Tribunal know at the time
who fled because of being expelled, because of rumours,
because there was a local war, because NATO's bombs were
falling, because Albanian leaders encouraged them, or
because of some other reasons. Furthermore, it is
extremely unlikely that 740.000 could be equated with
"about one-third," meaning there were way over 2 million
Kosovo-Albanians alone in Kosovo, or almost 2,4 in total.
There are no data on any side supporting such a
Be this as it may, it is conspicuous that the crimes
are limited in time to 1999. It is highly likely that
Milosevic could be charged with war crimes committed
since 1991 when the wars broke out in Slovenia and
Croatia and 1992 and onwards in Bosnia-Hercegovina.
However, this is NOT what the indictment focuses on. One
would also believe that the Hague Tribunal investigators
would have been able to collect more and stronger
evidence, interview more witnesses and victims, and
identify a larger number of bodies concerning the crimes
committed earlier - and thus present a more solid
indictment - than for crimes committed during the months
and weeks when the Tribunals experts must have been
writing the indictment and having much less hard
It looks like the timing of the indictment could have
been influenced by the situation and the following
consideration: NATO's bombing would be somewhat easier to
justify if the head of state at the time, the opponent
whose forces NATO was trying to kill on the ground, would
be considered a war criminal in the eyes of the world
and, thus, made morally inferior.
But how come the Tribunal did not indict him for what
could well be much worse atrocities, including
Srebrenica? One guess is that that would have created
some difficulties for the West, the United States in
particular. Milosevic was the strongman with whom Western
diplomats had repeatedly met. They had done deals and
made agreements with him. He was the only one in
rump-Yugoslavia at the time who could "deliver" and
guarantee stability, and his signature was on the
Dayton-Paris Agreement of December 1995. His country was
recognized as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, FRY, by
powerful countries in the early months of 1996. He had
been helpful by not reacting when the West assisted
Croatia in driving out some 250.000 legitimate Croatian
citizens of Serb origin from various parts of Croatia in
1995. As late as autumn 1998, Richard Holbrooke
negotiated a cease-fire and withdrawal agreement with
Milosevic - which he honoured while KLA/UCK moved into
the areas from which the FRY Army withdrew. The obscure
OSCE Verifiers' Mission was allowed into the country,
Milosevic conniving at its heavy CIA element.
In short, the other side of the Milosevic coin was
pretty obvious: he was a man useful to the West, if for
no other reason than that the West saw no one else with
whom to do (better) deals during most of the 1990s.
Who else could be indicted - and
what about comparable crimes?
Had Milosevic been indicted for crimes committed all
through the 1990s, it would become impossible to not also
indict Croatia's Franjo Tudjman (who everybody knew was
seriously ill at the time but still running Croatia) and
Bosnia's president Alija Izetbegovic, both of whom were
commanders-in-chief of their respective countries' forces
and from time to time appeared in uniform, something
Milosevic did not. The point is not whether they can be
judged as "equally big" or "smaller" war criminals than
Milosevic; the point is that atrocities were committed by
their side too, for which they should also be on indicted
due to their military rank.
If all the three guarantors of the Dayton deal would
have been indicted, the legitimacy of that deal and the
Dayton process would have evaporated. It looks like a
politically tainted indictment produced on short notice.
How could the West have indicted an ally who had
"delivered" time and again.
In addition, the mentioned 340 people killed is 340
too many, for sure. But make a comparison: NATO decided
to give priority to saving NATO pilots' lives and
conducted its raids from a height of 5-10 kilometers
which - unavoidably - would cause "collateral damage".
This was a deliberate choice: Yugoslav lives were
considered less valuable than NATO lives and many more
than 340 innocent Yugoslav citizens lost their lives due
to this deliberately chosen and completely irresponsible
policy of the alliance.
Furthermore, 340 dead people during what was also a
regular war between regular forces in the Kosovo province
is, for an international comparison, quite a small
figure. An estimated 100,000 had been killed in Algeria's
internal conflicts while the same moral West turned a
blind eye. Many more were killed in e.g. the
Ethiopian/Eritrean conflict at the time. And one hardly
wants to mention the at least 1000 times higher figure of
innocent Iraqi civilians who are the victims of a UN
decision and the policies of the United States and Great
Britain in particular.
Karadzic and Mladic also unlikely
to end up in the Hague
As recent as October 8, Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright, repeated on CNN that she will continue to
insist on Milosevic being extradited. On October 10,
NATO's Secretary-General, The Rt. Hon. Lord Robertson of
Port Ellen, stated that "we look forward to new policies
being enacted by the new government to strengthen
democracy in Yugoslavia and build cooperation with the
international community, including on the issues of war
This should be seen as part of a game. Why have Mr.
Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic not been
arrested and brought to the Hague? It is inconceivable
that forces of the world's strongest alliance (an
alliance that set out to quite systematically destroy a
European state) should be physically unable, over the
last five years, to arrest them.
One can only speculate, but I believe it is likely
that many in the West would feel very uneasy about a
situation in which people like Karadzic and Milosevic
would stand trial in the Hague and - cameras running -
speak into a microphone about their deal(ings) with
various Western diplomats, governments and envoys. They
could probably offer spicy details as to what suggestions
were made to them for accepting certain policies and
playing certain roles at various points since 1991. They
could probably also tell a few stories about how they
cooperated with other ex-Yugoslav leaders, including
friends of the West in the region, using double and
triple standards, to fool the West and organizations such
as the EU, OSCE and NATO.
The issue begs another obvious question seldom asked
by media: why have no high-.level Kosovo-Albanian
military or political leaders been indicted? One must
hypothesize that the answer is: because the West
intervened on their side and because the UN and NATO/KFOR
work intimately with them every day now.
We have also conveniently forgotten that the War
Crimes Tribunal statutes make clear that an indicted
person shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
While there are certainly very good reasons to believe
that Slobodan Milosevic can be found guilty of a series
of crimes, it is the Tribunal's norm that no one shall be
treated as guilty before the Tribunal so judges. This
point is repeatedly ignored by the press and by
politicians who participate in the Hague Tribunal game.
Also, why is the Hague Tribunal, financed and run as it
is predominantly by the US, seldom seen in the light of
the fact that the United States itself consistently
refuses to sign the draft treaty on a new truly
international criminal court?
There are enough questions to be asked. One wonders
why so few journalists - and law experts - do?
Milosevic should be handled by
With the new leadership under Vojeslav Kostunica in
Belgrade, Yugoslavia hopefully will move step-by-step
towards democracy, accountability and a status as a state
governed by law. As such, there are no reason to demand
of it what neither EU governments, the US nor any NATO
member would accept: namely that it should not be able to
handle its own criminals the way they ought to be
handled. There is, in summary, many reasons why Kostunica
has said long ago and repeated now that Milosevic will
not be extradited to the Hague. It's entirely
understandable and does not mean that Milosevic will not
be charged with crimes in his country.
As Milosevic' actions probably makes a very good
example of war crimes, it is a pity that the Tribunal
made such a bad case out of it to the extent that the
Tribunal has lost credibility. Somebody responsible for
the Tribunal should come out with some good answers to
the perfectly legitimate questions and issues raised here
The West would do wise to drop this untrustworthy
"conditionality" now. It will only poison its relations
with Yugoslavia. Milosevic was a dream bully who could
conveniently be blamed for anything. That too presents
the West with a considerable problem.
Equality of all who are subject to a legal system is
central to its integrity and legitimacy. There must not
be one law for the powerful and another law for the rest.
If the US doesn't see that point, the EU should. But one
must fear that this issue will be just one among many
around which new Yugoslavia and the West will clash in
the future. More about that in the next PressInfo.
© TFF 2000
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