Nearly four years after the death of the infamous former president of Serbia and the former Yugoslavia who was on trial for murder and crimes against humanity, an Indiana law school hosted The Milosevic Trial: An Autopsy, a conference of more than 20 experts on the trial of Slobodan Milosevic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Authorities on Eastern European and Russian history and politics, international criminal law, and other issues that came into play during Milosevic's trial gathered Feb. 18-21 at Indiana University Maurer School of Law – Bloomington. The ultimate goal is to publish a book that will provide a comprehensive look at the process of Milosevic's trial and how his death affected the outcome, or lack of outcome.
Law professor Timothy William Waters, who organized the conference, is a former member of the Office of the Prosecutor for the ICTY and helped draft the Kosovo indictment for Milosevic.
That indictment, issued May 24, 1999, regarded his treatment of Albanian civilians in Kosovo, including "forced deportation of approximately 800,000 Kosovo Albanian civilians. … The murder of hundreds of Kosovo Albanian civilians … in a widespread or systematic manner throughout the province of Kosovo. The sexual assault by forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Serbia against Kosovo Albanians, in particular women. Widespread or systematic campaign of destruction of property owned by Kosovo Albanian civilians …" according to case information available through the ICTY.
Milosevic was also indicted in October 2001 for similar crimes against Croat and other non-Serbian civilians in Croatia, and indicted again in November 2001 for crimes against Bosnian Muslims and non-Serbian civilians in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
He was arrested April 1, 2001, and his case was transferred to the ICTY June 29, 2001. His trial began Feb. 12, 2002, following no pleas to any of the charges against him.
The trial officially ended without a judgment March 14, 2006, days after his death on March 11, 2006, which was found to be due to natural causes. He was 65 and had been complaining of illness throughout the trial.
Waters, who had been teaching classes about the Milosevic trial and invited current students to observe the February conference, first started organizing the speakers in March 2009. He said his intent was that panelists would have a mix of backgrounds, including people from the former Yugoslavia, professors, historians, and legal experts, and others with a stake in Milosevic's trial.
Among the goals for conference attendees was for them to determine if it mattered that there was no judgment, or if there was anything to be learned from the process for future international criminal cases.
"Everyone knew this was the biggest case they'd do. There were a lot of hopes attached to it," Waters said. "The way it ended is almost more interesting than if there had been a judgment."
Among the questions he wanted the conference to address was what happened to all the claims against Milosevic after his case ended?
When he got the idea for the conference, his goal was to have three kinds of people: those who worked on the trial, those who were scholars of international criminal law, journalists and various experts on the former Yugoslavia.
"To just have lawyers or only Yugoslavians talk would leave out a lot," he said.
During the conference, Waters said there were a number of "reasonably and acceptably tense exchanges," as he expected. "It's a very divisive issue. If there were no sparks and fireworks I'd be disappointed."
The conference also brought together seven different departments of I.U., including the university's Russian and East European Institute and Center for West European Studies, which cosponsored the event with the law school.
The school's Multi-Disciplinary Venture Fund; the Office of the Vice-President for International Affairs; the journalism school; international studies; departments of anthropology, history, and Slavic languages and literatures; Indiana Democracy Consortium; and Columbia University's Harriman Institute of the School of International and Public Affairs also participated.
The sessions throughout the conference focused on specific papers written and critiqued by participants.
The first session included a paper by Marko Prelec, a research officer with the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICTY from 1999 to 2005. He was the senior researcher on the Milosevic trial from 2002 through 2004. From 2005 to 2007 he was head of the investigation and analysis section within the Special Department for War Crimes at the Bosnian State Prosecutor's Office.
Prelec's paper was from the prosecution's standpoint. When addressing other panelists, points he made included how important the court is to not only remove leaders but their legacy, and how things might appear to be different looking back at the case since the first indictments were filed more than 10 years ago.
In response to his paper, other panelists suggested he consider how the adversarial nature of the court played a part in the prosecution's case, including how they wanted to use the case to make history and define what had been going on in the former Yugoslavia while Milosevic was in power.
As one panelist said, it's the prosecutors' job to present the best possible case for their side, which could involve the way facts were stated, even if they possibly overstated the truth. That panelist also asked if the prosecution had considered that now that the case is over whether it would make sense to go back over the briefs and revise them accordingly to get a better look at the facts.
Another paper was from Zdenko Tomanovic, Milosevic's legal advisor. Tomanovic raised the issue of how Milosevic was treated – how his requests for medical attention from a specific doctor were denied, and how the court treated him when he decided to represent himself.
Among his points, Tomanovic said Milosevic was presented 1.3 million pages of documents to look through. However, Milosevic was also told he'd have "sufficient time" to look through the documents for his case, something Tomanovic said was impossible for anyone to do in anyone's lifetime.
Considering the substantial number of documents, Tomanovic asked if the purpose of giving them to Milosevic was to hinder his case.
Based on his paper, other panelists asked if the court was punishing Milosevic for wanting to represent himself; the court allows defendants to represent themselves even if they are from countries where that is not an option.
Panelists also asked if there was a way to streamline the body of evidence for this case to make things more equitable for Milosevic, as opposed to expecting him to read 1.3 million pages.
Tomanovic added the system of the criminal tribunal was inherently unfair to Milosevic because the judges and prosecution were working to prove what they already thought he was guilty of.
"Can anyone be fairly tried for war crimes in the same system as individual crimes and individual responsibilities?" he asked. "Does a rabbit have a chance to persuade a hunter he has a right to live?"
Prelec added it didn't help Milosevic's case that he looked like a caricature of what the prosecutors wanted to make him out to be.
Another panelist added Milosevic might have had a cultural misunderstanding of what the court was supposed to represent – that the defense focused on the accused's perception of himself and not necessarily the charges at hand.
Other sessions included discussions on papers about the role of the media and the public's perception of the former Yugoslavia; what might have happened in the 40 hours of the trial that remained after Milosevic's death; had the ICTY achieved the goals it had at its onset; and how had the Milosevic case affected similar cases involving other ICTY defendants such as Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Charles Taylor of Liberia, who recently wrapped up his testimony at The Hague.
Waters said the next step will be for the panelists to use the criticism from others to work on revisions. Participants will continue the discussions remotely until final drafts are compiled. At that point, Indiana University Press will publish the papers into a comprehensive book about what happened and what could have happened.
For more information about the symposium and the speakers, visit the Web site: http://www.law.indiana.edu/milosevic/.