Elusive Justice in the Balkans
"If you are by chance hearing loud laughter," says Czech daily Mlada Fronta Dnes, "it is Slobodan Milosevic laughing loudly on his way to hell, having escaped and shown us that we do not know how to try war criminals."
While Serbia struggles to decide where the former Yugoslav leader should be buried, the European online media is questioning the international tribunal that prosecuted him for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by Serbian militias in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s.
Milosevic, who was found dead in his jail cell on Saturday, had been on trial since 2002.
His death has stirred pride, shame and anger in his native country, reports Deutsche Welle, the German broadcast network. The Serbian government is planning for a state funeral later this week, but with Milosevic's widow wanted for questioning in connection with a political assassination, the family may choose to bury him in Russia, the only other country where his nationalistic politics found a sympathetic audience.
While Russian commentator Pytor Romanov was almost alone in suggesting that Milosevic's death also killed the U.N. tribunal responsible for prosecuting war crimes for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague, many commentators agree that Milosevic's inconclusive four-year trial exposed serious shortcomings in the tribunal's workings.
"The death of Slobodan Milosevic has dealt a huge blow to the tribunal for former Yugoslavia in The Hague," said Radio Netherlands. "Mr. Milosevic was by far the most important figure captured and tried by the tribunal and his case set a precedent in international law. But by allowing the former president to defend himself, the tribunal was turned into something of a farce, with proceedings often descending into angry exchanges between judge and defendant or Mr. Milosevic giving the court a lesson in the history of Yugoslavia - as seen through the eyes of an ultra-Serb nationalist who believed entirely in his own innocence."
"The UN Tribunal in the Hague is responsible for the fact that no verdict was reached before his death," said the leftist German daily Die Tageszeitung, according to a Spiegel Online media survey. Milosevic "succeeded in turning the trial into a stage from which he could spread his own propaganda. After the chaotic selection of witnesses, it became difficult to identify any prosecutorial strategy in the trial."
But the Financial Times Deutschland defends the trial's merits: "When history classes look back at the Milosevic trial in 10 or 20 years, the primary focus won't be that the trial was interrupted. It will be that it even took place, before the eyes of the world. That is what's most important."
In Paris, Le Monde (in French) defended the tribunal saying if international justice "is to deserve its name," it must "offer the accused all guarantees" of a fair trial, even if those guarantees gave Milosevic opportunities to delay justice.
Martin Bell of The Times of London says the tribunal delivered "justice -- of a sort."
Bell, who covered the Balkan wars of the 1990s for the BBC, said Milosevic might well have been acquitted of genocide charges. "But there were many other charges against the late Serbian leader that could have been proven if the indictments had not been so widely drawn."
He noted that two allies of Milosevic, also indicted for war crimes, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, are still at large.
"There have been many times when Nato and its successor forces shrank from the risky task of capturing them. But these two must now be arrested. And, having been arrested, they must face the charges against them in a trial that is not a courtroom farce like Milosevic's, but a fair, serious and time-limited legal process."
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