Written by: Andy Wilcoxson


A status conference was held in the Hague Tribunal’s trial of Slobodan Milosevic on Thursday. The objective of the status conference was to consider the progress of the defense case.


According to Judge Robinson one third of the time allotted for the defense case has elapsed. He said that if the trial continued at the present rate, only 100 to 120 defense witnesses could be heard.


Milosevic wants to call over 1,000 witnesses. He argued that, Judge Robinson's calculation shows that he has been given “unrealistically little time to present the defense case.”  


Milosevic said, "I am going to ask for more time because without a doubt I will need more time." He went on to say, "My aim is to present the truth and that requires time."


Prosecutor Geoffrey Nice, who took nearly 300 days to present the prosecution case case, objected to any extension of the defense case beyond the 150 days allotted by the tribunal.


Mr. Nice proposed speeding-up the trial by holding hearings five days a week. Undoubtedly, his suggestion would speed up the trial. It would also severely impair the ability of the defense to prepare its case, and that is probably the real idea behind it all. The prosecutor wants to work for five days a week so that the defense will not have time to prepare.


Mr. Nice’s proposal is nothing but an attempt to sabotage the defense through a manipulation of court procedures. It is a dishonest and dishonorable attempt to limit the damage that Milosevic is inflicting on the prosecution case.


Milosevic objected to the idea of sitting for more than three days a week. He pointed out that the reason that the trial only sits for three days a week is because the tribunal’s doctors have prohibited him from working more than three days a week.


Also discussed was the possibility that Milosevic would testify as a witness in his own defense. Milosevic rejected the idea telling the tribunal, "I do not want to testify because I will have to take a sworn declaration before an institution I consider illegal."


Secondly, it would completely pointless for him to testify as his own witness. What would he do conduct an examination-in-chief of himself? Ask himself questions?


The tribunal suggested that Milosevic should speed-up his defense by submitting witness testimony in written form by using Rule 92-bis and Rule 89(F).


Milosevic, for his part, does not want to submit witness testimony through written statements. He wants witnesses to be heard live. He wants the public to see the trial and hear the evidence. He knows that he is innocent and that a public trial is in his best interests.


Milosevic told the tribunal that live witness testimony at a public trial is the “essential matter of principle, not a technical issue of time.”


Mr. Nice, on the other hand, wants evidence to go in without the public being able to see it. He likes the idea of witnesses testifying via written statement. According to Mr. Nice, Milosevic “persistently insists on a mistaken concept of a public trial”.


Nice says, the purpose of a public trial is “to make it possible for the public to control the work of the judicial organs, not to provide it with entertainment or propaganda.”


Of course Mr. Nice’s argument is nonsense. If the testimony is contained in a document that the public can’t see, then the trial can not be considered public.


If the public is unaware of the evidence, because it was given in writing, then how will it know whether the tribunal reached a fair verdict reached on the basis of evidence, or if the judges just pulled a verdict out of thin air.


Mr. Nice tipped his hand a little bit too far, by expressing concern that the trial could be used for propaganda purposes. Mr. Nice is admitting that the facts and evidence presented by Milosevic and his witnesses can have a political effect. This is Mr. Nice’s primary concern.


On May 17, 1999, right in the middle of the NATO bombing, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea stated, "NATO countries are those that have provided the finance to set up the Tribunal, we are amongst the majority financiers, and of course to build a second chamber so that prosecutions can be speeded up so let me assure that we and the Tribunal are all one on this, we want to see war criminals brought to justice and I am certain that when Justice Arbour goes to Kosovo and looks at the facts she will be indicting people of Yugoslav nationality and I don't anticipate any others at this stage."


Obviously NATO isn’t paying for the tribunal so that Milosevic can use it to expose them as a pack of criminals. Mr. Nice’s job is to justify NATO’s barbaric aggression against Yugoslavia by demonizing Slobodan Milosevic. That is why he is so concerned at the prospect of the trial being used for propaganda in Milosevic’s favor.


The tribunal knows that it is trying to convict an innocent man, which is why it wants the evidence to be hidden from the public.


After the status conference, the tribunal heard testimony from Kosta Bulatovic, A Kosovo Serb who organized demonstrations in the 1980s to draw attention to the plight of Kosovo’s Serbian population. He organized and/or participated in demonstrations throughout Yugoslavia.


The prosecution has said that Milosevic was the hidden hand behind those demonstrations. They claim that he organized those demonstrations so that he could ride to power on a wave of nationalism.


Bulatovic testified that the demonstrations were not organized by Milosevic and that they were not violent or nationalistic in any way. The sole point of the demonstrations was to put pressure on the state authorities to protect the Serbian population living in Kosovo.


Bulatovic was among the first people to speak out against the conditions Serbs were subjected to in Kosovo during the 1980s. He first spoke out against the desecration of a Serbian cemetery in 1983. He also circulated a petition in 1985 that demanded equal rights for Serbs in Kosovo.


He was present when Milosevic came to speak at Kosovo Polje in 1987. In fact he was part of the group that invited Milosevic to come. He said that Milosevic was not a well known personality at the time, and that they invited him after more senior politicians, such as Ivan Stambolic, had disappointed them.


Mr. Bulatovic will continue his testimony when the trial resumes next Tuesday.

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