Events

Milosevic and the Hague War Crimes Tribunal

May 15, 2002 // 12:00pm1:00pm

Summary of the East European Studies discussion with Louise Branson, an independent journalist and co-author of Milosevic: Portrait of a Tyrant.

Louise Branson argued that the War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague has so far been a failure in achieving its stated goals of bringing reconciliation and healing to the peoples in the former Yugoslav republics. Many in Serbia perceive the Tribunal as a form of victor's justice carried out by NATO and assert that the current procedures of hauling indicted war criminals to the Hague carry the danger of deepening ethnic hatreds and divisions. This is because the Hague Tribunal has allowed Milosevic to turn his trial into one of the whole Serbian nation, linking himself and the Serbs as victims of foreign enemies. Yet, despite the shortcomings of the Tribunal, Louise Branson emphasized the necessity for an International Criminal Court and the importance of U.S. leadership in establishing an international justice system.

Milosevic has been particularly deft at identifying the weaknesses of the War Crimes Tribunal and exploiting them. Among the problems that officials in the Hague face: the tribunal has little precedent to follow; the prosecution has no direct evidence implicating Milosevic in the 66 charges against him; there are few witnesses alive who can authoritatively testify against Milosevic; the court lacks its own police force to arrest and detain suspects, leaving it reliant on participating members; and, the officials of the court are unfamiliar with the defendants' cultures and customs.

Milosevic's performance in the Hague has illuminated the ways in which such courts can be exploited and manipulated. This, in part, has contributed to the Bush administration distancing itself from the establishment of an International Criminal Court (ICC), despite tepid earlier U.S. support. Though the U.S. has expressed concern that an ICC would be an anti-American forum in which American officials and soldiers could be brought up on frivolous exchanges, Branson argues that this revised position signifies that the U.S. is backing away from the notion that international justice can be achieved.

Branson urges the U.S. to take the leading role in addressing international justice and believes that the Milosevic trial can be used as an important case study. Some have suggested that the U.S. set aside its doubts, join the ICC, and work from within it. Branson does not necessarily think this is the solution. Instead, she suggests that the U.S. think of more imaginative ways to set up an international justice system that would have a better chance of bringing reconciliation and healing - something, she argues, the current structure lacks. One idea she offers is the establishment of a judicial version of the IMF - a body that would: have the tools, prescriptions, and clout to implement reforms; encourage international cooperation; and allow trials to take place in the countries where the crimes were committed. The U.S., however, must take the lead in instituting such a structure, as its participation provides the clout necessary for support, adherence, and implementation.

 

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant

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