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Extreme prejudice: the Hague Tribunal and the trial of Slobodan Milosevic

By Ian Johnson - posted Monday, 15 July 2002

To spend one day at The Hague Tribunal is enough to confirm the worst of suspicions. What is actually taking place in the heart of "democratic" Europe is a show trial so blatant, so lacking in any form of legality, that it brings shame to those who are participating in it and to those who refuse to challenge it.

The history of the Tribunal’s formation and funding is well documented. Originally an idea that emanated from the United States Department of the Army, it was brought into being via the UN Security Council in its Resolutions 808 and 827 of 1993. Not only was this act legally invalid, being that the Security Council had no authority in judicial matters to establish such a Tribunal, but its creation also involved a reinterpretation of the UN Charter. Canadian lawyer Christopher Black observed the following:

... the UN is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of its members, a fundamental principle of international law and the first guarantee of the right to self-determination of the world's peoples. If a people do not have the right of sovereignty, the right to self-determination is a sham. This principle is completely denied by the creation of the Tribunal. The UN Charter states that nothing contained in the Charter shall authorise the UN to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state. This fundamental principle, put in the Charter so that the UN could not be used by some members to bully others has also been fatally undermined by the creation of the Tribunal. The members of the Security Council, more precisely, the permanent members, now hold the opposite position, and I submit, do so for reasons connected more with imperialism not humanitarianism.


Indeed the political character of the Tribunal was made clear in a statement to the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Boutros Ghali, in 1994 by Antonio Cassese. Cassese commented, " Our Tribunal will not be simply 'window dressing' but a decisive step in the construction of a New World Order."

Similarly, the Tribunal’s funding also exposes its political character. Much of its funding has come from the US government through cash and equipment, with other notable contributors being the Rockefeller family, Time-Warner, who own CNN and have exclusive rights to broadcast the trial, and American billionaire financier George Soros. The Soros connection is significant. The Coalition for International Justice (CIJ), founded and funded by George Soros, supplies many of the Tribunal's legal staff. The George Soros foundation, the Open Society Institute, is one of the parties that obtain evidence for the Tribunal, and most tellingly, the Open Society Institute funds the main KLA newspaper in Pristina, a fact that has not been mentioned once by the western media.

Political bias in action

Unlike the practice in criminal courts The Hague court itself is involved in the laying of charges and the approval of one of the trial judges must be obtained before a charge can be laid. This extraordinary relationship between the prosecution and judges undermines the right of the accused to a presumption of innocence. Furthermore this close relationship can be witnessed in the day to day proceedings at The Hague.

During the first week of June 2002, I can bear witness to the various ways this hand in glove operation of prosecutor and judge appears in practice. I heard testimonies of several prosecution witnesses. Witness’ gave their, sometimes lengthy, statements that were then elaborated on by the prosecution and on occasions involved photographs and maps. At no time during this process did the judge, Richard May, stipulate a time limit on the prosecution. Yet when it was the turn of Mr Milosevic to cross-examine the witness, Judge May would instruct that a time limit be put on proceedings. At one point, in response to protests from Mr Milosevic, Judge May arrogantly proclaimed, " We are the judges Mr Milosevic and we have judged that you will have forty-five minutes to cross-examine this witness." (7th June 2002).

Basically a cross-examination should take as long as it takes, be it ten minutes or ten hours, especially as the accused is facing the gravest charges any human being can face. But in the peculiar rules and procedures of this particular court, the trial judges will ensure that this is not the case.

Additionally, the Tribunal has been given the absolute authority to devise its own rules and procedures, an unheard of situation in any other circumstance.


When we come to the way the judges attempt to "protect" the prosecution witnesses from any piercing cross-examination of their statements the full political bias of the court is revealed. I understand from other reports that this is a daily occurrence, however I will limit myself here to what I personally witnessed.

On the 6th June prosecution witness Mr Buyo, a KLA commander in the Racak zone during 1999, in his testimony relating to events surrounding the alleged Racak "massacre", initially claimed that Serbian security forces had opened fire first. However, later in his testimony when explaining the KLA's actions, he testified that his own forces had merely fired warning shots into the air so as to alert their colleagues of the approaching Serb forces.

Mr Milosevic seized on this discrepancy and pointedly asked the witness, "Why, if it was true that the Serbian security forces had fired first, was it necessary to fire warning shots into the air?" A quite reasonable assumption one would have thought. If you are under attack there is no need for any colleague of yours to fire shots in the air warning you of an approaching enemy. Mr Milosevic attempted to drive home the significance of this discrepancy at which point, with the witness clearly in trouble, Judge May intervened and instructed, "Move on Mr Milosevic, you have laboured this point enough. Go on to another question."

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About the Author

Ian Johnson is North West Regional Secretary, Socialist Labour Party, England.

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