The surrender of Slobodan Milosevic to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was a watershed moment for justice. It was an event many never dreamed could happen. The possibility of Milosevic, a former head of state, being tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity engendered enormous expectations. His imminent trial also created much controversy in his native Serbia and beyond.

Slobodan Milosevic’s death on March 11, 2006, shortly before the conclusion of the defense case, ended the “trial of the century,” depriving the many victims of a final judgment in the most comprehensive proceedings regarding the events in the region. The four-year duration of the trial and Milosevic’s frequent courtroom grandstanding had already raised concerns and questions about the trial; his death, following the high expectations created by his arrest, ignited a round of criticism about the efficiency and viability of these trials.3 The criticism was seen by many as a setback for justice through an international criminal tribunal.

Often overlooked in the controversy about the trial’s management is the vast amount of evidence introduced that, at a minimum, shed important new light on how the armed conflicts were conducted. Human Rights Watch believes the evidence introduced should help shape how current and future generations view the wars and in particular Serbia’s role in them.

Slobodan Milosevic’s trial was also groundbreaking in that the tribunal faced legal and practical issues never before confronted by an international court. Milosevic was the first former head of state tried for war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law, which is of itself an important precedent. Since then, Saddam Hussein and Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, have also been arrested and face charges for atrocities committed on their watch. Belgium has also issued an arrest warrant for Hissene Habre, the former president of Chad. With the establishment of the International Criminal Court, no government official, on the basis of his or her position, is beyond the law. The time when being a head of state meant immunity from prosecution is past.

More trials of this magnitude will follow and the officials involved with these proceedings can learn from the experiences—positive and negative—of the Milosevic trial. The Trial Chamber in this case grappled with a number of novel issues, not least of which was managing Milosevic, a strong personality who insisted upon representing himself. How the court handled these issues, and how the prosecution prepared a case covering three conflicts spanning nearly a decade, provide useful lessons in preparing indictments and managing these sorts of trials in the future.

This paper seeks to examine both evidentiary and procedural aspects of the Milosevic trial. Part One of this report examines some of the important evidence introduced in the proceedings, without drawing any conclusions about Milosevic’s guilt or innocence. Human Rights Watch has not undertaken an exhaustive review of the evidence, nor were we able to examine any of the material introduced under seal. However, we have sought to highlight some evidence from the trial relating to how the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Serbia gave material, financial, and administrative support to the Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia.

Part Two of this report looks at some of the procedural issues, including the length of the trial and the management of the proceedings, for lessons that may be of use in other cases.

In order to prepare this report, Human Rights Watch interviewed dozens of individuals involved with the trial, including prosecutors, defense attorneys, Registry staff, and members of the ICTY’s Outreach Programme. In addition, we interviewed a number of journalists who followed the trial closely over the years. Based on these interviews, we began to review transcripts and decisions available on the ICTY website. Reviewing the transcripts allowed us to create a lengthy list of exhibits and witness statements we wished to examine further. At our request, the Prosecutor’s Office provided us with the exhibits we sought, all of which are publicly available. Our conclusions, both with respect to the evidence and the trial proceedings, are drawn from our interviews and our review of the evidence.

3 See, for example, “Credibility and Legitimacy of International Criminal Tribunals in the Wake of Milosevic’s Death,” Harvard International Review, undated, (accessed November 27, 2006).