Sunday, March 12, 2006

Escaping judgement

Slobodan Milosevic is dead, apparently of natural causes. As Sheila Pulham points out in the Guardian, this brings closure, but no justice. Milosevic's trial will never conclude, his defence will never be tested, and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia will never deliver a verdict - meaning that we will never really be able to say whether he was guilty or innocent. Instead, the question of his responsibility for the Bosnian genocide and for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Kosovo will be debated endlessly by historians. Regardless of which way the verdict would have gone, in this sort of case, that is a tragedy.


I think it's much better for these issues to be debated by historians than fought over by soldiers. Slobo's death, and with it the end of his trial, removes one of the sticking points that stops Serbia becoming a "normal European nation". Which is what Serbians want, and also the best thing for Croatians, Bosnians and other neighbouring peoples.

Posted by Rich : 3/12/2006 11:11:00 AM

The tragedy is that we ever started the show trial in the first place one that was doomed to be defeated in this manner from the day they started it.

What a huge waste of time.

Posted by Genius : 3/12/2006 11:54:00 AM

I think there will be quite a few Bosnians who will have no difficulty determining whether he was innocent or not.

Maybe historians of David Irving's caliber will spend years debating his responsibility.

But no doubt the wacko left - - and the wacko right - - will be loosing a geat deal of sleep over such issues.

Posted by Anonymous : 3/12/2006 12:17:00 PM

I would have preferred a definitive trial's end and conviction on crimes against humanity, particularly Serbia's brutal racist and sectarian abuse of Bosnian and Kosovar Albanian Muslims.

However, at least Slobo died during a legitimately convened international court trial during due process procedures. He was being held to account, which should be some comfort to the victims of ethnic cleansing and racist violence in those formerly war-torn countries.

He was a butcher who legitimated obscenities. I will not mourn his passing.

Craig Y.

Posted by Anonymous : 3/12/2006 12:46:00 PM

In most trials the procecution treats the trial as a method by which to get some criminal of the streets - so you catch al capone and you charge him with tax evasion or you get a 12 time murderer and charge him with things like breaking and entering and theft and assault.

what you DONT do is charge them with a war crime, because it will cost you a bilion dollars last a decade or ten, and you will loose (everyone will have it slammed in their faces that it is almost impossible to prove war crimes beyond doubt) - and then the guy will be back out on the street again.

he gets the fun of humiliating the system he despises and you get to pay a billion dollars or so for the favour.

Posted by Genius : 3/12/2006 12:59:00 PM

Neil: well, I don't really doubt it either. But like Craig, I would have preferred the definiteness of a verdict from a credible tribunal, where the evidence had been thoroughly tested and the defendant given every opportunity to defend himself. Milosevic's death has robbed us - and history - of that.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/12/2006 01:15:00 PM

Genius: war crimes trials are not a method of "getting people off the streets". They are a means of delivering justice, uncovering truth, and telling the story of an atrocity so that the world cannot forget. These goals are served regardless of whether the verdict is guilt or innocence.

Both the Nuremberg trials and the ICTY were fairly successful at securing convictions. Notably, they also handed down acquittals; they were emphatically not "show trials". I suggest you go and read about what a show-trial actualy involves before flinging the term about.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/12/2006 01:28:00 PM

Just finished reading Geoffrey Robertson's fascinating "The Tyrannicide Brief" (2005). In it, the author draws some intriguing parallels between the trial and execution of Charles I (1625-1649)for massacres of civilians during the English Civil War (1642-1649), and current affairs.

Charles recognised no limits on his executive authority as a divine-right monarch. Couldm't the same be said about the late Slobo and Saddam Hussein?

Craig Y.

Posted by Anonymous : 3/12/2006 02:25:00 PM

Of course the Nuremburg trials only involved a very small minority of the perpetrators of Nazism - at it's broadest, one could regard the tens of millions of Germans who voted Nazi as culpable, or certainly those who voluntarily joined organisations such as the SS. Without turning the German nation into a large jail (or introducing compulsory parstoralisation as suggested in the Morgenthau Plan) punishing these people was impractical.

In South Africa, the decision was made not to punish anyone, but to seek to determine the truth behind apartheid. This has been largely successful - at least in stabilising and uniting the country. A similar approach has been taken in Northern Ireland.

I'd argue that trials are appropriate where the oppressor was a small clique without popular support - where there was substantial popular backing for the tyranny it's hard to see how trials can be other than symbolic.

Posted by Rich : 3/12/2006 02:40:00 PM

The tragedy is that he wasn't strung up by the nuts like Mussolini.

Posted by stephen : 3/12/2006 08:04:00 PM

Apart from the fact that Slobo's death is an unalloyed good all by itself, hopefully another good will come of it - we've had an example of how war crimes trials work and hopefully that example will be enough to kill the idea for a while. Four years, enormous sums of money, a constant live-television podium for Slobo to blather on about how it's all everyone else's fault, and in the end, still pretty much nothing proven beyond reasonable doubt. Serbian loonies have a martyr, and we have the pleasure of knowing Slobo ran us down on live TV for 4 years.

It is though a worthy follow-up for the Nuremberg trials, which did the seemingly impossible in rehabilitating Hermann Goering in the eyes of the German people, from a figure of contempt and ridicule to one of dignity and respect. Even my Dad said he was impressed at how Goering conducted himself at Nuremberg, and Goering had spent the first few years of the war trying to kill him! Great result guys.

Posted by Psycho Milt : 3/12/2006 08:43:00 PM


> War crimes trials are not a method of "getting people off the streets".

Well the obvious solution is to stop confusing the two things (which is exactly my point). You could find him guilty of some little thing and then have a "trial" where his freedom (or even welfare) is not at stake. Maybe you could hold it in the history department of a university.

> They were emphatically not "show trials".

I find that difficult to believe.
Just for starters we have trail based on laws created after the crimes were committed where it was INCONCIEVABLE that no one would be found guilty. And if am concerned about it - imagine what someone with something at stake would think? what hope do you have to achieve your wider goals?

Besides - if 20 years after a trial the consensus of historians was that the judges were wrong, Surely any reasonable person would go with the consensus as opposed to the judges. (hypothetically of course) So what would it have achieved?

“Genius: war crimes trials are not a method of "getting people off the streets""

A trial should be about achieving the core goals such as preventing people committing the crime again, punishment etc. Telling a story is the role of a tv show / history documentary. It is like trying to fly in a car.

"Notably, they also handed down acquittals"

not to sound like a conspiracy fiend but - that's exactly what they would have wanted. Besides I consider it still a show when the defendants start doing a bit of acting to the camera.

Posted by Genius : 3/12/2006 09:47:00 PM

"Notably, they also handed down acquittals"
Yes, well, tbe Soviet judges did feel that their Western counterparts hadn't really got to grips with the basic premise of a show trial. Stalin would have done it better.

Posted by Psycho Milt : 3/12/2006 11:54:00 PM

Psycho: Again, I think its worth noting that the ICTY has achieved a fair number of convictions (and some acquittals) so far; the problem is caseload, not the model.

As for Slobo's trial, yes, he got to stand up and present his defence. And the one thing it showed is how pathetic that "defence" was. Claiming that the court has no jurisdiction and that you are above the law was not credible in 1945, and it certainly hasn't been credible since then. Anyone who thinks that it is (such as Milosevic and Saddam) clearly hasn't been paying attention for the last fifty years. Or indeed, for the last 350.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/13/2006 01:14:00 AM

Genius: I think its worth pointing out here that the international community does not have jurisdiction for tax evasion and traffic tickets. We only do war, war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, racial discrimination and torture, plus the old standbys of slavery and piracy (all of which are recognised as preemptory norms of international law - basically, things which are illegal in any civilised state, and therefore illegal the world over).

As for "laws created after the crimes were committed", the charges at Nuremberg - war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes against peace - were all well-justified in customary or explicit international law at the time. Quite apart from their status as pre-emptory norms (see above), it was for example illegal under widely-accepted conventions to which Germany was a party to take civilians as hostages, conduct reprisals against civilian populations, and use slave labour; likewise it was illegal under the Kellogg-Briand Pact (to which Germany was likewise a party) to wage war as an instrument of national policy. Since then of course we've had the UN Charter, UNDHR, Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and numerous other international legal instruments. I'd say that the world's leaders have been given more than fair warning that they may be held to account in the future for their atrocities. And any of them who are dumb enough to think that they might not be or are above such things (yes, I'm talking to you, John Yoo) deserves everything they get.

I disagree that it was inconceivable that Milosevic would be found innocent. If the facts were on his side, then I fully expect him to have been acquitted. Now, I don't think the facts were on his side, but that doesn't alter the above in the slightest.

Finally, telling the story and documenting the crime has always been a key part of these tribunals. It's called "establishing the facts", which is a necessary precursor to determining guilt or innocence.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/13/2006 01:38:00 AM

> the international community does not have jurisdiction ...

Which is why I prefer the trial in one's own country with the full set of laws available to you.
the alternative if for there to be a very rich body of laws for use of the ICC (possibly all that countries international treaties, transfered to the individual level?) - but that would basically make the UN a real government.

I thought the standard defence was "I read that the US (and basicaly everyone else) is guilty too. - therefore how can you single me out?"

We are lucky they dont actually get real lawyers if that defence can hold up a court case for potentially 10 years.

Some might consider that almost no matter what happens in the war the victor will be able to procecute the looser.

> Kellogg-Briand Pact

Im sure all of these issues have been debated before elsewhere and Im as unconvincedas half the other people. But I've had enough of debating on the side of maniacs.

Posted by Genius : 3/13/2006 08:16:00 AM

The likes of Milosevic were/are dinosaurs, throw backs to an era of racist and militant nationalism that put Europe through so much heartache in the first 50 years of the 20th century. The only reason these dinosaurs survived in Yugoslavia was because Tito froze the country in time.

Posted by Anonymous : 3/13/2006 08:55:00 AM

I'm not so sure about that. Have you taken a good look at Poland lately...?

Craig Y.

Posted by Anonymous : 3/13/2006 03:09:00 PM