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(E) Prosecutors to blame for their own headache ?
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  07/7/2004 | Media Watch | Unrated
(E) Prosecutors to blame for their own headache ?


Prosecutors to blame for their own headache (?)


For someone who didn't suffer in Croatia, it is irrelevant what the charges are. Value on truth and justice need to be placed regardless of "headaches". They are NOTHING to compare with the "headaches" we had to go through.
Nenad Bach

SLOBODAN Milosevic has dedicated his time in court to wrong-footing a legal process he refuses to recognise, but it is the former Yugoslav president’s health that has created the biggest headache for prosecutors.

It is not Mr Milosevic’s fault that, at 62, this whisky-loving, heavy smoker is suffering from a heart condition which has forced the court into continual delays which have already stretched a six-month prosecution session into a two-year circus. And Milosevic is within his rights to demand the right to defend himself.

In fact, prosecutors have only themselves to blame. It is they who chose to charge Milosevic with crimes in three wars, rather than just one, turning what might have been a fairly straightforward case into a vast undertaking.

In 1999, when Milosevic was first indicted, he faced charges related only to crimes in Kosovo, the southern province where nearly a million ethnic Albanians were expelled, and ten thousand killed, by Serb forces. Had prosecutors stuck to these charges, the trial would be over now and a verdict would be in, almost certainly pronouncing him guilty.

Instead, the current Hague tribunal chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, decided to charge him with crimes in Croatia and Bosnia as well.

Not only did this decision triple the caseload of the trial, but it added new complications. In Kosovo, Milosevic was the legal commander-in-chief of the security forces, making it comparatively simple to prove him responsible for atrocities by those forces.

But in Bosnia and Croatia, he had no official link to Serb forces in what were separate countries, and proving unofficial links has taken much court time.

Finally, while there has been plenty of gruesome evidence of genocide in Bosnia, there has been none, at least in open court, showing that Milosevic ordered it.

The result of this ambitious charge-sheet has been a whale of a trial, with a 125-page charge sheet, one of the longest in history outside fraud trials, comprising 66 separate counts. Proving guilt in two or three of these would be enough to put Milosevic away for life.

Prosecutors insist that only with all 66 counts examined can they prove Milosevic was at the centre of all the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

Yet their decision has left the judges on the horns of a dilemma. If they simply carry on with the trial, stopping each time Milosevic falls ill, the case may go on indefinitely. If they impose a lawyer, they will risk being accused of denying him his legal right to defend himself. Almost certainly a court-imposed lawyer will get no co-operation from the former president.

The trial was supposed to announce the arrival of the war crimes process on the world stage. Instead, is has provoked questions about whether such mega-trials are practical, questions all the more pertinent with the start of Saddam Hussein’s trial.

• Chris Stephen is author of Judgment Day: The Trial of Slobodan Milosevic, published this month by Atlantic Books


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