COMMENT: MILOSEVIC CHEATS VICTIMS OF JUSTICE
By Emir Suljagic in Sarajevo
March 15, 2006
(From Balkan Insight number 25)
Death of Serbian leader highlights flaws in ICTY prosecution strategy.
Slobodan Milosevic is dead but parts of his legacy may outlive him.
It is a historical irony that he should die in the same year that
both Kosovo and Montenegro are set to go independent, marking the
final, crushing defeat of Serbian nationalism.
The former Yugoslav strongman died in a prison cell in the final days
of a trial that broke records, both in terms of its length and complexity.
It dealt with crimes committed in three different wars, covering the
territory of three former Yugoslav republics and spanning a ten-year period.
That he should not live to see its end is a blow to the Office of
the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former
Yugoslavia, ICTY. That he should die an innocent man is something
that he now paradoxically shares with over 100,000 of his victims.
For those who survived, Milosevic, who has robbed them of their existence
once and orchestrated the death of their loved ones, has done it again.
This time, he has robbed them of whatever justice the ICTY could provide.
For the Office of the Prosecutor and its strategy it would be
an understatement to call his death a setback. His death has shown
that the idea of focusing on Milosevic alone, rather than on all of
the members of the "joint criminal enterprise" that he took part in,
was flawed and has now come back to haunt its authors.
Milosevic was the most prominent member of the enterprise and the
person who gave it a kick-start. But in order for the effort to be
sustainable, he elicited and received the aid of different heads
of the Yugoslav National Army, JNA, and the heads of the federal and
Serbian interior ministries and secret services.
Some of his closest associates, such as the Serbian secret service chief
Jovica Stanisic and his deputy Franko Simatovic, are in the dock.
On the other hand, JNA generals Veljko Kadijevic, Blagoje Adzic and
Zivota Panic are still living in the relative peace of retirement.
Others will never be called to account for the part they played
in a course of events that eventually led to genocide against the
Bosnian Muslims. They include Branko Kostic, a Montenegrin member
of the presidency of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, who
testified as a defence witness in the Milosevic trial. Also amongst them
are Momir Bulatovic, the former president of Montenegro who was scheduled
to give evidence in Milosevic's defence this week, and, last but by
no means least, Borisav Jovic, Serbian member of the federal presidency
and Milosevic's mouthpiece.
That the end result of the prosecution strategy, in terms of the
number and origin of the individuals indicted in relation to the
war in Bosnia, is that the genocide there has been made to seem like
a result of internecine fighting, has already been noted. In fact,
it was a systematic attack, planned and led from Belgrade, on all
aspects of the life of the Bosnian Muslims - cultural, economic,
moral and physical.
Of 344,803 Bosnian Muslims who in 1991 lived in what today is
the Republika Srpska, about 7,933 were left in 1997 to 1998.
Genocide - the permanent removal of over 300,000 people, together with
any reminder of their previous existence - is Milosevic's only lasting heritage.
He was the prosecution's only bet. And now they have lost. The
fact, however, that Milosevic will never be convicted of genocide,
does not mean that individuals associated with him or under his control
did not commit individual acts of genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
General Radislav Krstic - who at the time of his arrest carried
an identity card of the Yugoslav Army - is the first person to have
been found guilty of aiding and abetting genocide in Srebrenica.
As part of a plea agreement with the prosecution, Biljana Plavsic, a
member of the triumvirate Bosnian Serb presidency, provided detailed
evidence of the effective control that Milosevic's regime had over
the Bosnian Serb political and military leadership.
The ongoing trial of Momcilo Krajisnik, the speaker of the Bosnian Serb
assembly and a close associate of Radovan Karadzic, will perhaps
complete the picture of Bosnian genocide as a countrywide operation.
Although not a judgment, the Decision on Motion for Judgment
of Acquittal, which judges issued in mid-June 2004, following the
end of the prosecution case against Milosevic, is a good indicator
in determining both his individual responsibility for genocide and
whether Bosnian Muslims were the targeted group.
Having heard the prosecution evidence, the judges made it clear that
Milosevic had a case to answer with regard to the genocide charges
against him. Importantly, they noted that, on the evidence available
at that stage in the proceedings, a trial chamber could be satisfied
beyond reasonable doubt that Milosevic took part in a joint criminal
enterprise including the Bosnian Serb leadership, and that he shared its
other participants' intention to destroy a part of the Bosnian Muslims as a group.
In the same vein, the chamber concluded that "the scale and pattern of the
attacks, their intensity, and the substantial number of Muslims killed,
the detention of Muslims, their brutal treatment in detention centres
and elsewhere, and the targeting of persons essential to the survival
of the Muslims as a group are all factors that point to genocide."
It does not mean that Milosevic would necessarily have been found guilty
at the end of the proceedings, but this is the only reliable indicator
of the direction in which the process was going.
In the four years it spanned, the Milosevic trial has evolved from
what seemed like an unprecedented triumph for international justice
into a legal travesty.
Milosevic's rights turned out to outweigh the rights of all of
his victims. And he cheated them again, as he did in all the years
when he was a "factor of stability" in the Balkans and a "man of peace".
That it was the peace of mass graves did not matter to anyone.
Emir Suljagic is a survivor of Srebrenica and the author of Postcards from the Grave. He is BIRN's Balkan Insight contributor.