Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change


By Michael Farquhar in The Hague (TU No 395, 25-Feb-05)

Presiding judge Patrick Robinson intervened to force an end to the testimony of former Serbian foreign minister Vladislav Jovanovic on February 23, and expressed alarm that if Milosevic continues at his current pace, he will use up half the time allotted to his defence questioning witnesses on Kosovo alone.

The former Serbian president – who insists on representing himself in court – also faces charges relating to the wars in Croatia and Bosnia and Hercegovina.

As Milosevic went on to question his next witness – a doctor and health official who worked in Kosovo throughout the Nineties – he received repeated warnings about his use of leading questions and the spurious relevance of some of his arguments.

Judge Robinson’s decision to dismiss Jovanovic on February 23 came after more than four days of testimony from the accused’s longstanding ally. The trial chamber’s patience eventually appeared to run out when Milosevic exceeded his estimate of how much time he would need to complete his re-examination of the witness.

Judge Robinson then confronted the accused with a series of statistics. Milosevic, who has so far taken 30 days to examine 19 witnesses, is currently dealing with his next batch of 27, all of whom are being called to answer charges relating to Kosovo.

According to the judge’s calculations, based on the accused’s own estimates, by the time he finishes with these witnesses he will have used up 75 days in court – half the time allotted to his defence, in line with the length of the prosecution case.

Milosevic has submitted a list of more than 1,600 witnesses who he wishes to testify in his defence.

Expressing concern that his approach to date risks leaving large portions of the prosecution case unanswered, Judge Robinson warned Milosevic that the defendant would “ultimately bear the responsibility” for such a development.

The judge also reminded the accused that he has access to the services of Steven Kay, the defence counsel assigned to his case last summer in response to concerns that the former Yugoslav president’s health problems would lead to delays. Milosevic has refused to meet with Kay since his appointment, and this week publicly scorned him in court on two separate occasions.

“The assigned counsel you imposed on me represents you, not me,” Milosevic replied with indignation, causing Judge Robinson to warn him that such comments were “absolutely out of order”.

Judge Kwon, for his part, advised Milosevic to consider entering written statements into evidence for some witnesses, and then using his time in court more efficiently.

The rest of the week was taken up with questioning Vukasin Andric, who was Kosovo’s health secretary from 1998 to 2002.

Milosevic began by asking Andric about prosecution allegations that the Serb authorities had dismissed thousands of Kosovo Albanian professionals from their jobs throughout the Nineties in the run-up to the conflict in the province.

According to the witness, most of those who left the health service in fact did so either voluntarily or as a result of pressure from other parts of the Kosovo Albanian community. Those who were actually dismissed, he said, were fired only because they infringed national employment law, often by not turning up to work for long periods.

He also claimed the mass exodus of Kosovo Albanians from the province in 1999 was a result of panic caused by the NATO bombing, rather than efforts by the Serb police and military to drive them out. He told the court that at the time, he had spoken with dozens of refugees daily – and all had cited the aerial bombardment as their reason for leaving.

When asked about the confiscation of refugees’ identity papers at the border with Macedonia, the witness replied that he did not believe that this had been official policy – but added that he thought it had been done in some cases to prevent the documents being misused.

Andric also spoke about a number of occasions when NATO aircraft apparently bombed civilian targets, including a refugee convoy and a commercial bus.

Judge Robinson encouraged the defendant to deal with these topics insofar as they were relevant to the indictment against him, as they may have acted as a catalyst for refugee movements.

But he reminded Milosevic that he, not NATO, was on trial and warned the defendant that he would only be allowed to introduce evidence about the bombing if it was specifically relevant to the charges listed in the indictment.

“We don’t have time to waste in this case,” the presiding judge stressed.

During cross-examination of the witness, prosecutor Geoffrey Nice cited statements by an Albanian doctor who had continued to work for the Serb authorities during the Nineties - and who said he was unaware of any doctors leaving their jobs “voluntarily” before 1998.

Instead, the doctor claimed that ethnic Albanian health workers were dismissed for such “offences” as filling in forms in Albanian, which was once an official language in the province.

Cross-examination of this witness will continue on February 28.

Michael Farquhar is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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