Conference "Legacy of the
Slobodan Milosevic Trial"
Belgrade, March 31, 2007
04/12/2007 , HCHRS
The Helsinki Committee focused the first out of six
sessions dealing with key issues of the recent past - planned under the
project realized with the assistance of the Fund for an Open Society -
on the most important process conducted before the International
Criminal Tribunal for ex-Yugoslavia: the trial of Slobodan Milosevic. By
opting to open the series with "the Milosevic case" the Committee had in
mind that regardless of the fact that sentence in the first instance was
not passed the trial's legal and political implications were much too
important to be sidelined from public discourse - and not only because
of various interpretations of the wars in ex-Yugoslav territory and war
crimes, including the crime of genocide, but also for the sake of
restoration of confidence in the ex-Yugoslav territory and regional
The whole day conference in Belgrade's "Aero-Club"
attracted numbers of participants, including many young people. The
conference was divided into three panels titled "Legal Aspects of the
Trial of Slobodan Milosevic," "Extra Legal Aspects of the Trial of
Slobodan Milosevic" and "The Echo of the Trial: the Media and Expert
In her opening address, Sonja Biserko, chairwoman of
the Committee, said among other things, "Slobodan Milosevic legally died
an innocent person and, therefore, his criminal responsibility will
never be proved. But the trial that lasted four years and was broadcast
to viewers throughout Serbia left piles and piles of documentation
crucial to our facing of our own recent past. Those documents testify of
crimes, criminals, victims, executioners, masterminds behind a criminal
project, responsibility of governmental institutions, as well as of the
international community's role in conflict building, the war, peace
accords and post-conflict management, the establishment of The Hague
Tribunal included.To dismantle institutions /pillars of belligerency/
and discredit the leaders who have incited, enabled and committed crimes
were among the reasons why the Tribunal was formed in the first place.
Has the Tribunal contributed to the establishment of peace in the
Balkans? To answer the question we must firstly define peace. There is
stable peace and there is unstable peace. As for Serbia, her present-day
peace is unstable with Kosovo, the emergence of Vehabits in Sandzak and
Vojvodina's autonomist claims. Serbia's territorial integrity is vaguer
and looser than it was before the onset of the war."
Principal Trial Attorney Sir Geoffrey Nice, one of
keynote speakers at the first panel, takes that contribution to general
awareness that similar events should never happen again is the trial's
biggest, long-term value. "Regardless of how imperfect the trials in the
ICTY might be, they leave behind enormous material, documents and
testimonies that could have never been disclosed was it not for the
Tribunal," said Nice.
"The video-recording from Kula, as fundamental
evidence presented at the trial of Milosevic, proves without doubt that
he knew back in 1991 that 'the Red Berets' would be formed. The
video-recording showing members of the Scorpions para-military unit
killing six Muslims from Srebrenica similarly testifies that a crime
could not be denied," said the principal trial attorney in the case
against Slobodan Milosevic.
Referring to ideological instrumentalization of the
law as a "manner of all regimes" in Serbia, second keynote speaker,
lawyer Srdja Popovic, pinpointed that a considerable part of Serbia's
citizens saw and still sees the trial of Milosevic as injustice done to
"the hero arrested with the helping hand of domestic traitors." Even had
the trial been brought to an end and a sentence passed, that sentence
would be doubly interpreted in Serbia - for some it would be something
unavoidable, for others it would be injustice, said Popovic.
According to historian Latinka Perovic, a keynote
speaker at the second panel, the key question is whether the trial of
Slobodan Milosevic was "an incident or a manifestation of a historical
tendency." Genuine facing up the past has to be triggered off from
within, by the very society, as in the case of Germany or France." Sara
Daregshori, author of the Human Rights Watch's report "Weighting
Evidence: the Lessons of the Trial of Slobodan Milosevic," singled out
the trial's significance for the process of transitional justice, while
Obrad Savic of the Belgrade Circle insisted on demarcation line between
law and justice.
Journalists Mirko Klarin and Brankica Stankovic were
keynote speakers at the third panel. Klarin's address negated the deeply
rooted thesis about "an imposed court." "The idea to have the Tribunal
established originated from a group of intellectuals from this region.
The group included figures such as Zdravko Grebo, Rastko Mocnik, Veton
Suroi, Zarko Puhovski and Bojan Dimitrijevic", said Klarin. He quoted an
indictee, Croatian general Tihomir Blaskic saying it would be "terrible"
had the Tribunal not been established since "many would have taken mass
crimes could be committed without punishment." As Brankica Stankovic put
it, the fact that "many politicians would not call things by their names
but court the electorate instead" was the key problem of Serbia's
system. "This is why to this very day people labeling the Srebrenica
genocide liberation of Srebrenica are considered heroes."
The documentary "The Trial of Slobodan Milosevic"
produced by BBC was premiered at the close of the conference.