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THE ELECTRONIC LIVEIBIZA

Weekly Edition 019: Saturday 7th July 2001

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Commentary
by Gary Hardy

 
A Fallen Tyrant
 

A scowling and defiant Slobodan Milosevic made his first appearance in the dock of international justice earlier this week on Tuesday 3rd July, refusing to enter a plea on charges of crimes against humanity at the "illegal" court of his enemies.

The man accused of ordering the worst atrocities in Europe since the Nazis wore a dark suit and a tie in the red, white and blue of Yugoslavia as he was led into court in The Hague by United Nations guards.

Unmoved, the panel of red and black-gowned judges in courtroom one of the war crimes tribunal, one each from Britain, Morocco and Jamaica, answered the charges for him.

The Transcript of the First Hearing for Mr Milosevic

The hearing yesterday lasted 12 minutes with, aside from translators, only Judge Richard May and Milosevic speaking. This is an unofficial transcript.

The court president (British Judge Richard May): "This is the initial appearance of the accused in this case upon his transfer to the tribunal. The hearing is to be conducted in accordance with the rules of procedure and evidence of the tribunal, rule 62.

"Mr Milosevic, I see that you are not represented by counsel today; we understand that this is of your own choice. You do have the right, of course, to defend yourself, you also have a right to counsel, and you should consider carefully whether it's in your own best interests not to be represented.

"These proceedings will be long and complex, and you may wish to reconsider the position. In these circumstances, if you wish to have time to consider whether you want to have counsel or not, we would be prepared to give it to you. Now, do you want some time to consider now?"

Milosevic (in English): "I consider this tribunal false tribunal and indictments false indictments. It is illegal being not appointed by UN General Assembly so I have no need to appoint counsel to illegal organ."

President: "Mr Milosevic, in due course you will have the chance to put in motions challenging the jurisdiction or any other preliminary matters which you wish to do, but we take it that you wish to proceed today without counsel, although it's a matter which you may wish to reconsider in due course.

"This initial appearance is simply to deal with these matters, first of all the indictment itself, and secondly for you, if you wish, to enter your pleas of guilty or not guilty to it. The first matter is the indictment.

"As you may know, you have the right to have the indictment read out now into court before you plead to it. This is a right which you may also waive. Now, do you want to have the indictment read out or not?"

Milosevic (In English): "That's your problem."

President: "Mr Milosevic, you are now before this tribunal, and you're within the jurisdiction of it. You will be tried by the tribunal; you will be accorded the full rights of the accused according to international law, and the full protections of international law and the statute . . ."

Milosevic (In Serbian): "Mr President . . ." (pause while translation facilities rectified)
President: "The trial chamber will treat your response as a waiver of your right to have the indictment read out. The next part of the procedure is to move towards having that indictment put to you.

"Mr Milosevic, you may if you wish have time to consider your plea. The rule allows you up to 30 days to do so, if you don't understand the matters to which you have to plead or you wish to consult counsel before entering a plea.

"On the other hand you may enter a plea today. Now, do you want to enter pleas today, or are you asking for an adjournment to consider the matter further?"

Milosevic (In Serbian, via court translator): "This trial's aim is to produce false justification for the war crimes of Nato committed in Yugoslavia."

President: "Mr Milosevic, I asked you a question: do you wish to enter your pleas today or are you asking for an adjournment to consider the matter further?"

Milosevic (In Serbian) "I have given you my answer. Furthermore this so called tribunal is . . ." (remainder faded down)

President: "The rules state that if an accused fails to enter a plea, then the trial chamber shall enter a plea of not guilty on his behalf. Mr Milosevic, we treat your response as a failure to enter a plea and we shall enter pleas of not guilty on each count on your behalf."

Milosevic (In Serbian): "As I have said, the aim of this tribunal is to justify the crimes committed in Yugoslavia. That is why this is a false trial, an illegitimate one . . ."

President: "Mr Milosevic, this is not the time for speeches. As I have said, you will have a full opportunity in due course to defend yourself and to make your defence before the tribunal. This is not the moment to do so. This matter is now adjourned.

"The next hearing will be a status conference which will take place in the week commencing the August 27 unless the trial chamber orders an earlier hearing.

"The matter is now adjourned."

Milosevic, the former Serbian dictator nicknamed the Butcher of Belgrade, spent much of the 12-minute session sitting forward with his hands on his chin, glowering across the windowless room at the four prosecutors.

His own bench of defence lawyers was empty, following his late-night decision to drop his legal team. There could have been no starker way of making his argument that this was a political not a judicial process.

His two Belgrade attorneys watched the proceedings through grenade-proof glass, sharing the small public gallery with journalists from all over the world.

Judge May, armed with a switch controlling Milosevic's microphone, was quick to cut off his efforts to harangue the court.

In a final show of contempt, Milosevic glanced pointedly at his watch as he left the court, as if to indicate that it had all been a tiresome charade.

He was then whisked away in a convoy of three black limousines with a police escort - almost like old times, except that his destination was his cell at the UN's Schevengen jail.

The first war crimes indictment of a serving head of state will now proceed at a stately pace. Within 30 days the prosecution must turn over all its evidence to Milosevic, including Nato intelligence intercepts.

The charges are likely to be expanded to include atrocities in Croatia and above all Bosnia, where 200,000 people were killed in a war that eclipsed the abuses in Kosovo.

The tribunal will not consider its work done until it has closed the book on Srebrenica, where Serb forces exterminated 7.000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys inside a UN haven in July 1995.

But proving Milosevic's "command responsibility" over the autonomous Bosnian Serb military will not be easy. In Kosovo he commanded the troops directly.

Legal analysts in The Hague viewed his refusal to appoint lawyers as a theatrical stunt, saying that it gave him extra latitude to score political points.
It is expected that he will build a high-powered legal team as the trial starts in earnest next year.

At that stage, the defence is likely to play down Milosevic's strident claim that the court is illegitimate, since he put his signature to the Dayton peace accords in 1995 pledging to co-operate fully with the tribunal and accepting its authority.

At long last the tribunal has before it the man it always wanted to justify eight years of work, its 1,100 staff and an annual budget of £65 million. Now it has to prove its case.

That may be a hard task.

The view from Belgrade: Refusal to face reality is typical of Slobo

For Serbs watching on television yesterday Milosevic's performance was all too familiar.

Many remarked that the entire episode was vintage "Slobo", from his traditional stance on a public stage, to his refusal to face reality.

"The one hand on the table, the arm on the right knee, that's how he used to receive foreign dignitaries," said Zoran, a television commentator.

Milos, a sandwich shop manager, said: "I expected nothing less of him than to pretend that nothing was happening, to live by his own rules to the very end. That's what he did while in power."

A TV commentator noticed that Milosevic wore the same tie at the court appearance yesterday as when he addressed the nation during the Nato bombing campaign in 1999.

Only a minority felt strongly either way about the proceedings. Most Yugoslavs, at least in Belgrade, said that the day was inevitable and Yugoslavia could at last focus on its economic future.

Bekica, a dental technician, said: "It's not a nice feeling to see your former president in an international court, even if you know he's guilty and deserves everything he gets."

Even Milosevic's opponents voiced a cynical view on the proceedings. The war crimes tribunal in The Hague remains a mainly unpopular institution. President Vojislav Kostunica, the most popular politician in Yugoslavia, has accused the court of bias against Serbs.

Branko, a baker, said: "This has nothing to do with international justice. Franjo Tudjman [the late nationalist president of Croatia] was also a war criminal, but he was never indicted. This is a game of powerful nations controlling small nations."

Zika, a computer technician, said: "The United States opposes the proposed International Criminal Court because it doesn't want to ever have to answer for war crimes like we are doing.

"He who is strong can tell others what to do and there's no way to fight it. We had no choice but to send him off, but I would have preferred to see him tried here."

The view from Sarajevo: Justice? It is too little and too late

For the two middle-aged men sitting on a worn wooden bench in a suburb of Sarajevo yesterday Milosevic's appearance in court brought some satisfaction but little rejoicing.

Like other Sarajevans, who endured four and a half years of sniper fire, shelling and deprivation, they feel that justice may have come but it is too little and too late.

"I heard the trial costs $15,000 [£9,000] a day. Out of that you could build a new house for a homeless family every three or four days," said Tomo Cuk, a Serb who stayed in Sarajevo during the war. "Milosevic should just have been taken out and shot.

"I lost a son, Bojan, in 1995. Whatever Milosevic is charged with it won't bring him back."

"I also lost a son, Almir, in 1992," said his good friend, Hrusto, a Muslim. "Milosevic should have been taken earlier. It's too late now. So many children and young people have died."

The friendship of Tomo and Hrusto, two men divided by ethnicity, is almost unimaginable in Kosovo but common in Sarajevo. The Bosnian capital has been a religious and ethnic melting pot for centuries.

During the war Tomo was shot by a Serb sniper, the bullet passing through the sole of his foot. Hrusto was hit in the leg by shrapnel. The scars are still deep.

Despite the terrible suffering visited on Sarajevo by Serb nationalists, there is little talk of hatred or revenge in the city's narrow streets and bazaars.

But many are distressed that Nato has failed to arrest the two Bosnian Serb war-time leaders, Radovan Karadzic and his military commander Ratko Mladic, men who continue to exert influence.

Haris and Alma, a Bosnian Muslim couple who spent the whole war in Sarajevo, watched yesterday's proceedings in silence on a grainy television screen in their kitchen.

Haris said: "This is a big thing for us but don't expect big emotions. It's right that this should happen and it closes a terrible chapter. But we won't jump for joy. Our emotions were all spent a long time ago."

Endless: The legendary sword of El Cid, the great medieval Spanish warrior, is at the centre of a row over Spanish government attempts to buy it on the cheap. For more than 60 years the 11th century sword has been on view in the Army Museum in Madrid where it is described as belonging to El Cid. The sword belongs to the Marquis of Falces, who has offered to sell it for £3 million. But the government has offered just £400.000 on the grounds that it may not be authentic. Now the marquis has threatened to remove it from display.

 
Gary Hardy
garyhardy@liveibiza.com
 

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