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The Trial of Slobodan Milosevic

Introduction   |   The Charges   |   The Breakthrough   |   The Defense   |   Towards A Global Court

The Defense

Slobodan Milosevic and his dwindling supporters in Belgrade have admitted that rogue Serbian elements may have committed some abuses in Kosovo. But they insist those acts pale in comparison with the crimes of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the Albanian guerrilla group, and NATO, which bombed Serbia for nearly three months, killing an estimated 500 civilians.

"I was indicted (on) 26 May, the 60th day of NATO aggression against Yugoslavia, when I was defending my country," Milosevic told Judge May in his second appearance before the tribunal.

In other comments and in material circulated by Serbia's Socialist Party—the former communists—Milosevic claims NATO worked directly with Albanian guerrillas in an effort to dismember Yugoslavia and force Serbs to submit to America's global capitalist hegemony.

Milosevic's case has drawn support from leftist and anti-globalist groups, including the American Communist Party.

Though Milosevic has confounded prosecutors by refusing to appoint legal counsel and maintaining that the tribunal is an illegal body, he gets informal advice from a team of lawyers including Ramsey Clark, the former United States Attorney General.

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Clark and Canadian lawyer Christopher Black also have defended former Rwandan officials at the UN's sister war crimes tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania.

Milosevic and his legal advisors have signaled that they want to use the Kosovo trial to draw attention to NATO's air war against Yugoslavia. Milosevic has hinted that he may call as witnesses former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former NATO commander General Wesley Clark. It remains unclear whether Judge May will support Milosevic's witness list, especially if the defendant refuses to "recognize" the court.

Milosevic's "guerrilla defense" got a brief lift at the end of 2001 when Judge May rejected a prosecution request for all Milosevic's alleged crimes to be tried together. The judge also cut the prosecution's list of 110 proposed witnesses to 90 and demanded that it halve its 123 planned affidavits and 1,400 documents. But in early February, 2002, the tribunal appeals chamber overturned Judge May's decision, accepting prosecutors' arguments that a single trial was more appropriate. Prosecutors are expected to open the trial with the Kosovo case and move on to Croatia and Bosnia later in 2002. Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte says she expects the trial to last two years.

In recent appearances, Milosevic has switched from speaking English to Serbian in what is seen as an effort to sway public opinion in Yugoslavia. "Milosevic is trying to discredit the tribunal in the eyes of the people," says Michael Scharf.

"Milosevic is trying to discredit the tribunal in the eyes of the people," says Michael Scharf.


In addition, since the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, Milosevic has attempted to portray Serbia's war in Kosovo as a battle against Islamic terrorists.

"Milosevic was dealing with a threat from the Kosovo Liberation Army, a group that the United States and Europeans had labeled a terrorist group," says Scharf. "Before September 11, we could easily dismiss this and say that even if the KLA were partly terrorists, Milosevic went too far. But what he and his troops did against the KLA, Milosevic will try to argue, is no different than what the United States has done in Afghanistan."

The ICTY has investigated both NATO and the KLA for alleged war crimes. In 2000, a special committee of prosecutors determined that a full ICTY investigation of NATO's air war was not warranted, though the group only examined public record documents and testimony. Recently, the European Court of Human Rights declined to hear a civil suit against NATO governments brought by families of victims of an air attack on the Serbian television headquarters in Belgrade.

Carla del Ponte said she expects indictments against former KLA commanders for killings of Serbian civilians, but sources say those investigations have bogged down.

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