American RadioWorksDocumentariesJusticePart of The Promise of Justice

  January, 2002
The Trial of Slobodan Milosevic
  By Michael Montgomery

The trial of Slobodan Milosevic promises to be the biggest war crimes trial since the prosecution of Nazi leaders at Nuremberg. Can a civilian head of state, indicted while still in office, be held accountable for crimes carried out by rank-and-file troops? Legal experts say the outcome could help set the course of global justice for war crimes and other gross human rights abuses.

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This story is a part of The Promise of Justice, an on-going series examining the elusive concept of justice in societies wrenched by war and genocide.

Massacre at Cuska
A chilling, detailed look at an "ethnic cleansing" of one ethnic Albanian village in Kosovo—a massacre conducted under Milosevic's leadership.

Watch live and archived video from Slobodan Milosevic's trial before the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

When Slobodan Milosevic first appeared in Trial Chamber III of the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague, the newly arrived detainee projected the air of a head of state ready for battle.

Speaking in accented English, Milosevic denounced the tribunal as a puppet of western powers and made it clear to presiding judge Richard May that he would not play by the court's rules.

"I consider this tribunal a false tribunal and indictments false indictments," Milosevic said. "It is illegal, not being appointed by the U.N. General Assembly, so I have no need to appoint counsel to an illegal order."

After several quick exchanges with Judge May, Milosevic then hinted at a possible defense strategy: "This trial's aim is to produce false justification for the war crimes of NATO committed in Yugoslavia," he said.

Minutes later Judge May shut off Milosevic's microphone and adjourned the hearing.

Slobodan Milosevic's extraordinary appearance at the tribunal came two and a half years after the Kosovo war and nearly ten years after the beginning of wars in Croatia and Bosnia. Milosevic now faces criminal indictments for alleged war crimes in all three conflicts.

The stakes are high. Historically, military commanders and not civilian heads of state have been prosecuted for war crimes and many nations have sought to keep it that way.

"These are novel issues that have never before been decided," says Michael Scharf, a war crimes expert and professor of international law at the New England School of Law. "At Nuremberg, Adolf Hitler was not around. He had already committed suicide so you only had his second in command, Goering. Here you've got the president himself, the architect of ethnic cleansing and genocide. If you're going to try to prove these things, this is the trial you've got to win."

Next: The Charges

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Photo: AP/Wide World

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