Milosevic again argues legality of U.N. tribunal

Judge cuts him off, saying those matters already ruled upon

February 14, 2002|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

THE HAGUE, Netherlands - After hearing prosecutors graphically lay out their case for charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic yesterday used his first chance to speak to challenge the legality of the United Nations tribunal.

Milosevic argued that his arrest in Belgrade and extradition to The Hague were illegal and that he was a victim of a "lynch process." He questioned the legality of the tribunal "because it is not established on the basis of law."

Milosevic's argument, which he has made repeatedly since his extradition to the tribunal last year, drew a predictable rebuff from the chief judge, Richard May, who cut off Milosevic's microphone and told him his views on the court were "irrelevant."

May chided Milosevic, telling him the court had already ruled on his arguments made in pre-trial hearings, as the defendant would have known had he "taken the trouble" to read the decisions.

"You had the right of appeal," May said. "You did not take it. The matters, therefore, have all been dealt with and your views about the tribunal are now completely irrelevant as far as these proceedings are concerned."

Milosevic, who is serving as his own defense lawyer, is expected to give a combative opening statement today, in the first war crimes trial in history of a former head of state. He declined to begin his statement yesterday because only 30 minutes remained in the day's session.

He is charged with 66 counts of crimes against humanity and genocide for his alleged role in what prosecutors call a "joint criminal enterprise" in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has entered an innocent plea on his behalf.

Judged by his brief remarks yesterday, Milosevic, 60, could be a frustrating and at times formidable foe in court. He could also prove to be a contentious adversary for the chief judge, May, a Briton who once ran as Labor party parliamentary candidate against Margaret Thatcher.

In a court set like a stage behind bullet proof glass, Milosevic sat between two guards and cut a slimmer, paler figure compared to his appearance on television.

His eyes were alert, and he made eye contact with spectators sitting on the other side of the bullet-proof glass. He took notes. He wore a dark blue suit that was creased after a long day in court. And his voice, which once stirred millions of his fellow countrymen, remained strong.

Milosevic summoned a commanding if somewhat belligerent presence when given a chance to speak before an open microphone. He was trained as a lawyer and it showed, as he quickly argued his main points after declining his opening argument.

Yet he soon drifted off into a rant, and the three-judge panel dressed in scarlet and black robes seemed to be in no mood to tolerate his behavior. "The prosecutor [Carla Del Ponte] has orchestrated a media campaign that has been waged and organized," Milosevic said. "It's a parallel trial through the media, which along with this unlawful tribunal are there to play the role of a parallel lynch process."

Before he was cut off, Milosevic claimed the indictment against him "was raised on the constructions of British intelligence service during the war against Yugoslavia. And we know ... that intelligence services only give out selective information and details, those that they are able to rig and not those which are not to their advantage."

The prosecutors seemed satisfied with their opening statement, which accused Milosevic of finding advantage in the "chaos of war" that led to Yugoslavia's destruction. They spoke of places and displayed images that were chilling reminders of the murderous mayhem that engulfed Milosevic's Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Prosecutors showed tapes of frightened and bone-thin Croat men behind barbed wire at the notorious Trnopolje detention camps set up by Serb forces. They also reminded the court of the horror of Srebrenica, the Bosnia city that was a so-called "safe haven" where some 7,000 Muslim men and boys were rounded up and killed by Bosnian Serb troops. And spoke of the Sarajevo siege when the city was bombarded by Serbian forces.

But they focused on their contention that Milosevic allegedly oversaw the command structure that embarked on a policy of murder, rape and ethnic cleansing of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian population in 1999.

Geoffrey Nice, the principal attorney for the prosecution, claimed that the wars in Bosnia and Croatia were "battles" that Milosevic "could afford to win." But in Kosovo, the cradle of Serbian civilization, Milosevic faced a fight "he could not afford to lose."

Yugoslavia's dissolution and accompanying acts of violence, Nice said, "were not the acts of God. They were the acts of men."

"They were the results of deeds of men and, significantly, this one," the prosecutor said, referring to Milosevic.

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