While all this may sound a little reassuring to politicians and commentators alike, for those personally involved — namely the victims and the relatives of those killed — the technical outcome of the trial stands closer to the truth: Milosevic escaped as an innocent man. He never was forced to accept the fact that what he had done was wrong. In addition to this, the credibility of the IWCT in the Hague has been once again called into question.
Milosevic was charged with 66 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. At the time when he first appeared in The Hague, CNN called it "the most important trial since Nuremburg." But during the proceedings, the prosecution wasn’t able to clearly establish Milosevic’s responsibility for atrocities, some witnesses were exposed as liars, and even the crimes’ scope has been questioned.
Forensic evidence confirms that no bodies were mutilated in Racak, the scene of the disputed killings that triggered the US-led Kosovo war. Rade Markovic, once head of Yugoslavia’s secret service, eventually testifying for his old boss, claimed he was subjected to "pressure and torture" to sign a court statement. Another "insider" witness, Ratomir Tanic, was paid by British intelligence.
Concerning the worst massacre — several thousand men and boys killed in Srebrenica in 1995 — no evidence challenged a five year inquiry commissioned by the Netherlands. It concluded that there was "no proof that orders for the slaughter came from Serb political leaders in Belgrade." Meanwhile, the UN wasn’t held responsible for failing in its duty to protect the people in the area.
All this, coupled with the circumstances in which Milosevic was found dead in his cell, has given food for thought to those who believe that some sort of conspiracy exists. Indeed, conspiracy theorists are already drawing conclusions about a possible link between the death of Milosevic and the suicide of Milan Babic, which had occurred just a few days previous. Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that the IWCT didn’t allow Milosevic to travel to Moscow for medical treatment despite guarantees from Russia that he would return. Milosevic’s lawyer also added that his client had indicated to him that he was being poisoned.
All this has had the effect of bolstering the image of Milosevic at home, who is now regarded by a growing number of Serbs as a victim and martyr. This, in turn, has led to radical elements within Serbian society to further strengthen. Belgrade’s position on the future status of Kosovo is set to harden as nationalist elements seek to exploit the situation. Meanwhile, among more moderate nationalist elements, such as Vuk Draskovic, dismay was expressed that Milosevic wasn’t able to stand trial in Serbia for crimes he had committed against his own people.
As a result of all this, hope that the IWCT will be able to bring to trial the two leading Bosnian Serb leaders, Mladic and Karadic, is fading fast. The death of Milosevic makes it less likely that major war crimes suspects will give themselves up as they feel the IWCT in the Hague is not impartial. Moreover, unfounded rumors that Milosevic was poisoned will only strengthen their resolve to remain at large.
Yet it’s not only Serb radicals and nationalists that are skeptical about the IWCT, but some of the victims themselves. Many feel that they have been robbed of justice as Milosevic in the end wasn’t convicted and punished for his crimes. They argue that the long, drawn out process by which Milosevic was brought to trial raises questions as to how willing the international community really was in bringing the former Serb leader to justice. Some go so far as to speculate that because of some of the dirty secrets Milosevic knew about western complicity in the Balkan wars of the 1990s, the international community had purposely allowed the trial to drag on, fully aware of Milosevic’s medical condition in the hope that he would die before the trial was completed.
The fact that so many questions have been raised by those on all sides of the divide doesn’t bode well for future reconciliation. Victims can’t understand why leading war criminals such as Milosevic couldn’t be tried as swiftly as leading Nazis had been at the end of the Second World War at Nuremburg. Like Goering, they point out, some were even allowed to escape the hangman’s noose. Along these lines, the untimely death of Milosevic will make it harder for the wounds of the past, such as those suffered at Srebrenica, to heal.
Some may argue that this all just semantic rubbish, that history can still try and convict him, that we all know he is a criminal anyway, etc. Yes, it would have been nice to have him pronounced guilty, others would say, but this is just a formality. As for the international community, spokespersons for governments throughout Europe and beyond likewise expressed regret, however they were all resigned to accept that this is the way things go sometimes, and they all expressed hope that the International War Crimes Tribunal (IWCT) in the Hague will continue with its work and that the death of Milosevic won’t hamper efforts to bring those still suspected of war crimes to justice.
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