Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Hague tribunal judges have dismissed as “premature” a request by former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic for more time to present his defence against war crimes charges.
The subject arose after the accused, who insists on representing himself in court despite chronic health problems, submitted a list of a further 199 people he wants to call to the witness stand.
To date, Milosevic has used up well over two thirds of the time allotted to his defence case hearing testimony from just 41 witnesses.
Judges have repeatedly urged him to stop wasting time by ploughing over old ground, focussing on matters which are irrelevant to the legal case against him and using the court as a forum for political grandstanding.
They have also criticised his overwhelming focus on charges relating to the conflict in Kosovo in the late Nineties. So far, Milosevic has largely neglected two entirely separate charge sheets stemming from the earlier wars in Bosnia and Croatia.
But the accused showed little sign of changing his approach this week as he called his latest defence witness - a former Yugoslav Army, VJ, general who was stationed in an area of Kosovo in 1999 where a number of atrocities are said to have taken place.
According to the latest calculations, Milosevic has just 106 hours of court-time left in which to finish presenting his defence. This is all that remains of 360 hours originally allotted to him by judges, in line with the time prosecutors spent mounting their case.
The accused announced this week that he would in fact need some 420 hours to complete his wish-list of witnesses, which apparently includes British prime minister Tony Blair, German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and former United States president Bill Clinton.
But prosecutor Geoffrey Nice cautioned that, given the rate at which the defence case has proceeded so far, it could take as long as five years for Milosevic to work his way through the list.
As a result of Milosevic’s high blood pressure, his trial only sits for three hearings – a total of around 12 hours in court – each week. A significant proportion of this time is needed for prosecutors to cross-examine witnesses and for the parties to deal with other legal matters.
Milosevic insisted that time should not be a limiting factor in his case. “The right to defence cannot be curtailed and limited by using mathematics and it is not measured in terms of time,” he told Presiding Judge Patrick Robinson. “You know that full well.”
He claimed that other aspects of the way his trial has been structured also make it unfair.
In particular, he objected to the fact that prosecutors were allowed to submit some two-thirds of their witness testimony in the form of written affidavits. Milosevic claimed he lacked the resources necessary to use a similar approach in his defence case.
Asked by Judge Robinson whether his objections amounted to a request for extra time, the accused replied, “I hope... that is quite obvious.”
Having announced a fifteen minute recess to consider the matter, the judges finally returned to the courtroom nearly three quarters of an hour later to give their ruling.
Judge Robinson told Milosevic that he had “the very same facilities as the prosecution” for entering witness testimony in the form of written statements.
And he criticised the accused for failing to take advantage of the resources available to him, including two court-funded defence lawyers and their support team, three legal associates, a liaison officer to assist with administrative matters and an office.
Announcing that he was not prepared to consider at this stage an application for an extension of Milosevic’s case, Judge Robinson advised the accused to make “better use” of the time he has left.
Most of the rest of the week was taken up with examination of General Milos Dosan, who from July 1998 was in charge of an anti-aircraft brigade based in the Kosovo town of Djakovica.
Dosan addressed a number of specific incidents listed in the Kosovo indictment, including alleged attacks by Serbian and Yugoslav security forces on a mosque in Djakovica and on the neighbourhood of Qerim.
The general said that, in fact, he had personally seen the Djakovica mosque go up in flames during a NATO air strike.
As for the Qerim neighbourhood, he said he had been just 500 metres away on the night of the alleged attack, during which some 50 people are said to have been killed and dozens of homes torched. Neither he nor anyone else he had subsequently spoken to saw or heard anything out of the ordinary, he said.
Dosan told judges that his own troops had been involved in another operation mentioned in the indictment, which took place in and around the villages of Meja, Meja Orize and Korenica in late April 1999.
According to the indictment, the attack was organised in an effort to drive ethnic Albanian residents from their homes. In the process, prosecutors say, men were picked from the fleeing crowds and executed. Three hundred are said to still be missing and identity papers belonging to at least seven victims were apparently later recovered from a mass grave near Belgrade.
Dosan insisted the operation in the Meja area was designed to target members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA. In the event, he recalled, his own men hadn’t fired a single shot. He said he didn’t know for sure whether any “terrorists” had been killed elsewhere in the operation, claiming that this wasn’t really any of his business.
He also dismissed as “fantastical” the prosecution claim that the corpses of hundreds of Kosovo Albanian victims of the conflict in Kosovo were hidden in mass graves which were later exhumed at various sites in Serbia proper.
Dosan insisted that transporting bodies out of Kosovo would have been extremely difficult at the time, given the conflict that was raging and the fact that many bridges had been destroyed by NATO air strikes.
As the week drew to a close, judges urged Milosevic to find out whether his legal advisers were in possession of entries in Dosan’s war diary corresponding to the days when the killings are alleged to have taken place in Meja.
These pages were missing from documentation that the witness brought with him to court.
Dosan will complete his testimony when the trial resumes on October 25.
Michael Farquhar is an IWPR reporter in London.
- Europe & Eurasia
- Latin America
- Middle East & North Africa
- Focus Pages
- Training & Resources
- Print Publications
- IWPR Spotlight