Accessibility links

Breaking News

UN: Milosevic Trial Begins Second Phase With Genocide Charges

The war crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic resumed today after a two-week recess. The proceedings will focus on the former Yugoslav leader's involvement in conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia, for which Milosevic faces a charge of genocide. Analysts say prosecutors will face more difficulties in proving Milosevic's guilt than in the first phase of the trial, which dealt with his alleged responsibility for atrocities committed in Kosovo.

Prague, 26 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The war crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic reopened today in The Hague after a two-week break.

The trial is now centering on Milosevic's involvement in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia between 1991 and 1995. The first part of the trial, which concluded earlier this month, focused on his alleged responsibility for massacres and other war crimes committed in Kosovo. More than 225,000 people died in the two wars, which tore apart the former Yugoslavia.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia charges Milosevic with some 60 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity in both conflicts. He is also charged with genocide for his alleged involvement in the ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

In a 300-page document, United Nations prosecutors charge that Milosevic, together with Croatian Serb and Bosnian Serb leaders, top commanders of the army, and the Serbian Interior Ministry, developed a plan "to forcibly remove non-Serbs from targeted regions of Croatia and Bosnia" through mass expulsions, detentions, massacres, and other persecutions.

Lead prosecutor Geoffrey Nice said today in his opening statement that genocide in Bosnia was the end result of this plan. "We will submit at the conclusion of the evidence that the accused [Milosevic] intended to destroy the Bosnian Muslim community, in part in order to fulfill the aims of the objective of the criminal enterprise where prosecutions would be insufficient to achieve the desired result or, alternatively, that genocide was the natural and foreseeable consequence of the joint criminal enterprise [with Bosnian Serb leaders], forcibly and permanently to remove non-Serbs from territory, or that the accused was an accomplice in that he knew that some of the principal perpetrators were committing genocide and he took, or undertook, acts to assist in their commission," Nice said.

But experts believe that unlike the case of the 1998-99 Serbian intervention in Kosovo, where Milosevic, as Yugoslav president, officially headed the operation, his involvement in the conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia will be more difficult to prove because, at the time, he was president of Serbia.

Heikelina Verrijn Stuart, a Dutch legal expert and journalist, has been closely watching the Milosevic trial. "Milosevic was the president of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo war, and so he was the president of Kosovo itself, and for the prosecutors that means they would have to prove that there was a direct chain of command all the way up to the top, to Milosevic as president. In Bosnia and Croatia, it is different, because in that period, Milosevic was president of Serbia, so the prosecutors have to prove that he was so influential, had so much power through other persons, by working together with people through all kinds of formations and organizations, that he was the man you can say had the command responsibility," Stuart said.

In connection with the 1991-1995 civil war in Croatia, Milosevic is accused of crimes against humanity, which include persecution, extermination, torture, and inhumane acts. He is also charged in connection with the deportation of some 170,000 Croats and other non-Serbs.

The indictment names more than 700 people killed in the Croatian regions of Krajina and Slavonia, which were under ethnic Serbs' control, as well as during the 1991 attack of the Yugoslav Army on the Vukovar hospital.

Regarding the Bosnian conflict, Milosevic is facing a charge of genocide mainly for the 1995 massacre of some 7,000 Muslim men at Srebrenica. He is also charged with 29 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, which include murder, torture, and persecution.

Experts believe genocide, the gravest of all war crimes, will also be the most difficult to prove. "It will be very, very difficult to prove [the charge of genocide], although in the [Bosnian Serb General Radislav] Kirstic case, the Srebrenica case, there is already a judgment of one trial chamber saying that what happened in Srebrenica was genocide. So, if the prosecution could prove that Milosevic was responsible for what happened in Srebrenica, under the command of generals [Ratko] Mladic and Kirstic, then Milosevic could be convicted for genocide. But it isn't so easy, because you have to prove the intent of Milosevic himself," Stuart said.

Milosevic, who declined to name a lawyer and is conducting his own defense, has labeled the charges regarding Croatia and Bosnia as a "top absurdity" because, he said, he did not interfere in the domestic affairs of Bosnia.

But the prosecution has said it will present tapes of phone conversations between the accused and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, which they say will prove the latter's close connections with Serbia's leadership.

Dutch legal expert Stuart believes that in this phase of the trial, the prosecution has much more evidence than in the case of Kosovo, some coming from military intelligence sources. "One way or another, I think that either in a very covert way or in a more explicit way, intelligence organizations -- maybe not the Americans but maybe the British or French -- are helping the prosecution. It might be that we are not going to be able to hear it in open court. It might be behind closed doors or whatever. But I think [the prosecutors have] support now, and also the Bosnian Army [listened] in to many conversations during the war, so that's a main source of information also," Stuart said.

Stuart agrees that during the first part of the trial, which began in February, Milosevic had too many opportunities to intimidate witnesses. But she said she believes the prosecution succeeded in presenting enough evidence to prove Milosevic's responsibility to secure his conviction for the crimes committed in Kosovo.

Stuart told RFE/RL that if found guilty, Milosevic, the first former head of state to appear before an international court on genocide charges, is likely to get the highest punishment: life imprisonment. "Until now, the trial chambers have refused to say, 'Well, we'll give life punishment [in other war crimes cases],' and I've always thought they want to keep that highest punishment sentence for the people who are most responsible. So if they decide that Milosevic was responsible, you consider him the most responsible, and they'll probably give the life sentence, yes," Stuart said.

The prosecution is scheduled to finish presenting its case on Bosnia and Croatia by May, after summoning 177 witnesses: 71 for Croatia and 106 for Bosnia.

One of the first witnesses expected to be called this week is Croatian President Stipe Mesic, who headed the 1991 rotating Yugoslav presidency when the former federation broke up.