BELGRADE – The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague has determined that the late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic was not responsible for war crimes committed during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.
In a stunning ruling, the trial chamber that convicted former Bosnian-Serb president Radovan Karadzic of war crimes and sentenced him to 40 years in prison, unanimously concluded that Slobodan Milosevic was not part of a “joint criminal enterprise” to victimize Muslims and Croats during the Bosnian war.
Also found is that the Serbian nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj was also acquitted on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the 1990s post-Yugoslav wars, in a surprise verdict.
The verdict — by a majority two judges out of a three-judge panel — is a blow for prosecutors and for the thousands of Muslims involved in the conflict.
Vojislav Seselj is now a free man,” said Jean-Claude Antonetti, the presiding judge, after he declared moot an arrest warrant for the Serbian politician — who was allowed to return to Serbia for cancer treatment in 2014.
Mr Seselj, 61, who was the first indictee of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia not to be present in court for a trial verdict, later told a press conference the decision was “the only possible one from the legal aspect”.
“After so many proceedings in which innocent Serbs were given draconian punishments, this time two honest judges showed they valued honour more than political pressure,” he said.
The verdict may boost the prospects of Mr Seselj’s Radical party of re-entering Serbia’s parliament in elections on April 24, after it lost all its remaining seats in polls two years ago.
The hardline politician’s health has improved since his return to Serbia and he has been holding political rallies chanting nationalist slogans and calling for Serbia to stop pursuing EU membership and forge stronger ties with Russia.
The judgment may help redress an impression held by many Serbs that they have been disproportionately targeted by the UN tribunal.
In The Hague, Mr Antonetti sharply criticised prosecutors when reading out the verdict, saying they had brought an overambitious and complex case and failed to prove key aspects beyond reasonable doubt. He said the prosecution, which demanded a 28-year-sentence for Mr Seselj had often made broad pronouncements without providing hard evidence.
Judges also found prosecutors had failed to prove that Mr Seselj and his allies organised the forcible transfer of Muslims and Croats from parts of Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia, and that those populations were not simply seeking refuge from conflict.
Their arrests are a Travesty that exposed the Corruption of International Justice.
Slobodan Milosevic was vilified by the entire western press corps and virtually every politician in every NATO country. They called him “the Butcher of the Balkans.” They compared him to Hitler and accused him of genocide. They demonized him and made him out to be a bloodthirsty monster, and they used that false image to justify not only economic sanctions against Serbia, but also the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia and the Kosovo war.
Slobodan Milosevic had to spend the last five years of his life in prison defending himself and Serbia from bogus war crimes allegations over a war that they now admit he was trying to stop. The most serious charges that Milosevic faced, including the charge of genocide, were all in relation to Bosnia. Now, ten years after his death, ICTY admits that he wasn’t guilty after all.
The ICTY did nothing to publicize the fact that they had cleared Milosevic of involvement in the joint criminal enterprise. They quietly buried that finding 1,303 pages into the 2,590 page Karadzic verdict knowing full well that most people would probably never bother to read it.
It’s worth recalling that Slobodan Milosevic died under a very suspicious set of circumstances. He died of a heart attack just two weeks after the Tribunal denied his request to undergo heart surgery in Russia. He was found dead in his cell less than 72 hours after his attorney delivered a letter to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in which he said that he feared he was being poisoned.
The Tribunal’s official report on the inquiry into his death confirmed that, “Rifampicin had been found in a blood sample taken from Mr. Milosevic on 12 January 2006.” And that “Mr. Milosevic was not told of the results until 3 March 2006 because of the difficult legal position in which Dr. Falke (the Tribunal’s chief medical officer) found himself by virtue of the Dutch legal provisions concerning medical confidentiality.”
The presence of Rifamicin (a non-prescribed drug) in Milosevic’s blood would have counteracted the high blood pressure medication he was taking and increased his risk of the heart attack that ultimately did kill him. The Tribunal’s admission that they knew about the Rifampicin for months, but didn’t tell Milosevic the results of his own blood test until just days before his death because of “Dutch legal provisions concerning medical confidentiality” is an incredibly lame and disingenuous excuse. There is no provision of Dutch law that prohibits a doctor from telling the patient the results of his own blood test — that would be idiotic. On the contrary, concealing such information from the patient could be seen as malpractice.
This all gives rise to well-founded suspicion that powerful geopolitical interests would rather Milosevic die before the end of his trial than see him acquitted and have their vicious lies exposed. U.S. State Department cables leaked to Wikileaks confirm that The Tribunal did discuss Milosevic’s medical condition and his medical records with U.S. Embassy personnel in The Hague without his consent.They clearly didn’t care about medical confidentiality laws when they were blabbing about his medical records to the American embassy.
It’s an unsatisfying outcome that Milosevic has been quietly vindicated for the most serious crimes that he was accused of some ten years after his death. At a minimum financial compensation should now be paid to his widow and his children, and reparations should be paid to Serbia by the western governments who sought to punish Serbia in order to hold Milosevic “accountable” for crimes that their own Tribunal now admits he wasn’t responsible for, and was in fact trying to stop.