Milosevic's Death,Attention Shifts To Suit Vs Serbia
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP)--Slobodan Milosevic can no longer be tried
for genocide, but his country can.
Just down the road from where the former Yugoslav president had been
on trial until his death Saturday, the U.N.'s highest court is hearing
a civil suit by Bosnia against the state of Serbia-Montenegro - the first
of its kind.
The International Court of Justice, also known as the world court, cannot
judge individuals. It was created 60 years ago to adjudicate disputes among
U.N. member states.
But now that Milosevic is dead, many will see its ruling in the Bosnia
suit as a verdict of guilt or innocence for the man who led Serbia during
the 1992-95 Bosnia war.
"Bosnia's case is a case against the leadership, and the leaders represent
the state. They employ the organs of state power," said Edgar Chen, a lawyer
for the Coalition for International Justice, which monitors war crimes
At the same time, Chen said, it's not a criminal case in which guilt
must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. "The standard of proof at the
world court is lower than that," he said, speaking by phone from Washington.
Bosnia alleges that Serbia-Montenegro - the successor state of Yugoslavia
- is responsible for the genocide of Bosnian Muslims. More than 200,000
people of all ethnic groups died in the conflict.
It is seeking reparations, but hasn't specified how much. It's almost
certain to be in the billions of dollars.
Belgrade denies responsibility. Technically, it argues, Serbia was not
a member of the United Nations at the time, so the court has no jurisdiction.
Yugoslavia's U.N. membership was suspended in 1992, and Serbia regained
entry only in 2001.
More to the point, their lawyers say, the war sponsored by the Milosevic
regime has nothing to do with today's Serbia.
Bosnia filed the case in 1993, while the carnage was still at its height.
After submissions of thousands of pages and a series of interim pleadings
and motions, it was only last month that lawyers for the two countries
stood before the 16 black-robed justices to argue their case.
Appearing in the baroque Hall of Justice in the century-old Peace Palace,
they lay out their arguments - simultaneously complex in their legality
and simple in their emotive appeal.
"Belgrade authorities have knowingly taken the non-Serbs of Bosnia-Herzegovina
on a path to hell, a path littered with dead bodies, broken families, lost
youth, lost future," Sakib Softic, head of Bosnia's legal team, told the
"The stakes in this case are daunting," cautioned an advocate for Serbia,
Tibor Varady. "The question is whether the balance sheet of the 20th century
would show Serbia-Montenegro being the one and only State convicted for
Milosevic's death came within weeks of the conclusion of his $200 million
trial on 66 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
It dragged on for more than four years, repeatedly delayed by his ill health
until his death.
With no defendant, there can be no trial and no judgment. In 1998, the
judges in the case of Croatian Serb leader Slavko Dokmanovic had already
written their verdict when Dokmanovic committed suicide in prison. It was
The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal already has determined that genocide
occurred in Bosnia, when Bosnian Serbs slaughtered 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica
in July 1995. Two officers have been sentenced for aiding and abetting
But the link between the Bosnian genocide and Milosevic was never conclusively
established. That could have been done in his own trial, which is now over.
Legally, Milosevic died an innocent man.
But if the judges in the Peace Palace find Serbia guilty of genocide,
Milosevic's responsibility becomes an inescapable, albeit indirect, conclusion,
said Michael P. Scharf, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University
in Cleveland, Ohio.
"That will be the historic determination of Milosevic's guilt, even
thought it's not a criminal trial," he said.
March 12, 2006 19:32 ET (00:32 GMT)