How Milosevic death sets back justice
The Serb leader died in jail Saturday, just two months before his trial was due to end.
Even in the manner of his death, Slobodan Milosevic thumbed his nose at the rest of the world.Skip to next paragraph
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By dying in a prison cell before the end of his warcrimes trial in The Hague, the former Yugoslav president has denied his victims justice, raised his stature among Serbs as a martyr, and probably dashed the European Union's hope of soon coaxing Serbia out of its pariah status.
At the same time he has set back the cause of international justice, whose proponents had been relishing the prospect of a former head of state being punished for crimes against humanity for the first time .
The abrupt and premature end to Mr. Milosevic's legal battle, however, leaves the principles behind his trial intact, say judicial experts. "He was not brought to judgment, but he was brought to justice," says Edgar Chen, who was observing Milosevic's trial for the Coalition for International Justice. "He did not die in a hail of bullets in Belgrade or in retirement on the French Riviera. He died in a jail cell."
Milosevic was found dead Saturday in his cell at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, where his four-year trial on 66 counts - including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes - had been expected to end within two months.
The trial was often delayed by Milosevic's complaints of poor health. Diagnosed by court-appointed doctors as suffering from heart disease and high blood pressure, Milosevic had asked to go to Russia for treatment. Judges recently turned down the request, ruling that he had good enough medical care in The Hague. Dutch pathologists conducted an autopsy Sunday with Serbian pathologists observing.
"I deeply regret" Milosevic's death, Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte said Sunday, lamenting that "it deprives the victims of the justice they need and deserve." His death "makes it even more urgent" for fugi-tives from the war trials court, such as Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadjic, to be handed over, Ms. del Ponte added.
The European Union recently added to the international pressure on Serbia to hand over Mr. Mladic and Mr. Karadjic, indicted for their alleged roles in the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian men and boys at Srebrenica, by threatening to cut off talks on closer ties with Serbia unless the two men surrender to the court by April 5.
Milosevic's death, however, makes such a handover even less likely, say political analysts in Belgrade.
The Hague tribunal is highly unpopular in Serbia, where it is widely regarded as an anti-Serb kangaroo court, though it has also indicted some Croatian and Bosnian suspects.
Milosevic's death, together with last week's suicide of Milan Babic, a Croatian Serb in the same detention center who had already been sentenced for war crimes, "simply strengthen Serbs' feelings that they are victims of an unjust criminal trial procedure" says James Lyon, an adviser in Belgrade to the International Crisis Group.
Serbian politicians, including government leaders, know that "by attacking the tribunal they can only gain" popularity, says Srdjan Bogosavljevic, who runs Serbia's biggest opinion polling firm. "Future cooperation with The Hague is really going to be a problem."