Milosevic Trial: Sold to the Highest Bidder

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The trial of Slobodan Milosevic opened in The Hague last month to much self righteous acclaim. Commentators were quick to draw comparisons with the trial of Nazi leaders at Nuremberg. Yet far from being a testimony to the moral rectitude of the west, the International Criminal Tribunal on the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is a symbol of its moral duplicity.

The mere fact that this is indeed the first international war crimes tribunal since Nuremberg and Tokyo speaks volumes. Why were there no such tribunals for the US carpet-bombers of North Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia, where millions lost their lives? And few commentators saw fit to recall that at Nuremberg the first count on the charge sheet against Nazi leaders was that of planning and waging aggressive war. In 1999 it was Nato that planned and waged aggressive war against Yugoslavia.

The evidence that the ICTY is a political tool of the US and Britain is extensive. For example, Milosevic was hastily indicted during the bombardment of Yugoslavia for the crime of forcibly deporting 740,000 Kosovan Albanians (few commentators note that the indictment says deportation began on 24 March 1999, the day Nato started bombing). But when 250,000 Krajina Serbs were ethnically cleansed from Croatia in 1995, no indictment was ever issued against the Croatian president, Franjo Tudjman, who died a free man in 1999. Tudjman was an ally of the US. As one Croatian MP put it, 'The US gave us the green light to do whatever had to be done.'

Instead the ICTY has now indicted Milosevic for deporting Croats from Serb areas in Croatia, while the president of the Krajina Serbs, Milan Martic, was charged with launching cluster bombs against the Croatian capital, Zagreb, killing seven. When Nato employed cluster bombs during the attack on Yugoslavia (the US dropped 1,100, containing 220,000 bomblets, the British about 500 with 147 bomblets each), the ICTY chief prosecutor, Louise Arbour, said, 'I accept the assurances given by Nato leaders that they intend to conduct their operations in Yugoslavia in full compliance with international law.' Her successor, Carla del Ponte, later declared that Nato leaders would not be indicted as the ICTY was 'very satisfied there was no deliberate targeting of civilians'. Five days later Amnesty International published its report accusing Nato of targeting civilians when it bombed Serbia's television and radio station.

Set up in 1993 'at US behest', to quote Henry Kissinger, the ICTY's loyalties have never been in doubt. As Nato spokesman James Shea put it, 'Nato is a friend of the tribunal. Nato countries are those that have provided the finances to set up the tribunal. We are among the majority financiers.' Control is also exercised by regulating the flow of intelligence information. In 1997 Arbour complained that vital intelligence was being withheld from the ICTY: 'There is no doubt that there might be extremely valuable information contained in the intelligence archives of many countries...the difficulty of access to this kind of information, first of all, is obtaining an acknowledgement that it exists.' But when Nato sought Milosevic's indictment during the bombing of Yugoslavia, Robin Cook, then foreign secretary, announced that he would make available to the ICTY 'one of the largest releases of intelligence material ever authorised by the British'. Control is also exercised over the appointment of ICTY judges via the UN Security Council, where the US and Britain have vetoes. As Cherie Booth QC, Tony Blair's wife, conceded in the Guardian last year, 'The selection of international judges is often a highly politicised affair,' and 'some judges may find it difficult not to be loyal to their own states.' An English judge, Richard May, a former Labour Party parliamentary candidate, is presiding over the Milosevic trial.

Milosevic should have been tried in Belgrade before the Serbian people who risked all to overthrow him during their revolution in October 2000. Instead, under intense pressure, the Serbian government sold him to the west for $1.2 billion of desperately needed aid. The west will exploit the trial to flaunt its alleged human rights credentials. But, as with any court that prosecutes one criminal only to leave others at large, we must argue that the ICTY does not deserve to be called just until Nato's leaders and their Balkan accomplices join Milosevic in the dock.