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Milosevic Refuses to Enter Plea in War Crimes Tribunal

Aired July 3, 2001 - 12:30   ET



SLOBODAN MILOSEVIC, FRM. YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT: I consider this tribunal a false tribunal, and indictments false indictments. It is illegal, being not appointed by U.N. General Assembly. So I have no needs to appoint counsel to illegal order.


ROGER COSSACK, HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: Defiant and uncooperative former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic faces his accusers with contempt.

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Roger Cossack and Greta Van Susteren.

COSSACK: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic stands alone, refusing counsel and refusing to enter a plea at his war crimes arraignment at The Hague. He is charged with crimes against humanity, and crimes against the laws and customs of war. Those include deportation, mass murder, as well as religious and ethnic persecution.

Milosevic complained that his indictment is an attempted cover-up of NATO crimes in Yugoslavia. And during the arraignment, the chief judge, Richard May, scolded Milosevic, warning him that it was no time for speeches. The court then entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf.

Joining us today to discuss this, in New York, Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, a former judge on the Yugoslavia War Crimes Tribunal. Let's take a break right now and we'll be right back.


COSSACK: Well, as you can tell, we did have some technical difficulties, but we think they're all cleared up now. At least we hope so. So, let's go and introduce our guests.

Joining us today to discuss Slobodan Milosevic, in New York, Gabriel Kirk McDonald, a former judge on the Yugoslavia War Crimes Tribunal; here in Washington, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and from The Hague, CNN's chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour. Christiane, my first question is to you, tell us about the indictment this morning and bring us up-to-date.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was arraignment, what they call here an initial court appearance, and frankly, I've never seen so much drama in court as there was today. In 12 short minutes, we've been expecting something from Slobodan Milosevic, but his open defiance of the court, his declaration publicly that it was illegal, his attempt to make a political statement about how he felt that this was an effort to cover up what he called war crimes by NATO committed in Yugoslavia; all of this was unprecedented.

The presiding judge, Richard May, was extraordinarily dignified, allowed Milosevic to make some of those statements and cut him off when he felt he was going on too long. The point of today's initial court appearance was to have the indictment read out to him, to ask whether he understood the indictment and them to allow him to enter his plea of guilty or not guilty.

Slobodan Milosevic came in without a defense. He said he didn't need to appoint a defense. He refused to have the indictment read to him. He refused to enter a plea. With that, the presiding judge entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf, that according to the tribunal's rules and regulations, and the court process was adjourned until August 27th.

But it was really high drama here, and some observers have said frankly, not only was it vintage Milosevic, but it was also maybe perhaps fairly astute, because he obviously is playing to the home gallery. This was transmitted live to Serbia, to Yugoslavia and was viewed by the audience to whom he's always played, and those are what remains now of supporters back home -- Roger.

COSSACK: Christiane, what type of support does he have back home? Is there a great deal of support for him, and people who feel that he is -- that he was transported and handed over illegally to the authorities at The Hague?

AMANPOUR: Well, first of all, in terms of support, he was basically voted out of office last September, and you know, tens of thousands of people poured into the streets to celebrate his downfall. Then he was arrested on the 1st of April, and only a handful, a very small group of people turned up to protest that outside his house when it was going on, and really only a few thousand people, people who have been bused all the way from various different parts of Serbia have come into the streets of Belgrade in recent days to protest his extradition or transfer.

Having said that, there are a number of people in Serbia who still don't believe that he should have been transferred and should have been extradited. But public opinion is shifting there, and now according to polls, more than half the people back in his own home country believe that he should be extradited and he should face international justice. And this is not because of the international war crimes evidence that has been brought against him, but because of evidence that has been systematically uncovered over the last several months and weeks inside Serbia itself, where the new officials and the new authorities have been showing pictures on state television of mass graves that they've uncovered, directly linking him and accusing him of having ordered these what they say are civilians from Kosovo who are murdered and in some case tortured; some of them women, some of them very young children, basically removed from Kosovo and brought to Serbia to, in their words, hide the evidence of atrocities and escape a war crimes investigation. And this fact has really done more than anything else to shift public opinion away from him on this issue of war crimes.

COSSACK: All right, my thanks to Christiane Amanpour. Madam Secretary, you were in charge, I suppose, of dealing with Slobodan Milosevic during the '90s. He is a person that for that decade created a great deal of war. Why were we -- were we ever at a point of being successful with him diplomatically?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FRM. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, first of all, you have to remember, Roger, that he was in charge of a country, and when you are trying to end a brutal situation or try to decide how to deal politically with a situation in another country, you have to deal with the person who is the leader.

And so we dealt with Milosevic and tried to get him to understand that what was happening in Bosnia and Croatia at that time was wrong, and that he had to adopt different methods, and there was an agreement made with him in 1995, the Dayton agreement, which, in fact, end the war in Bosnia, and he said that he would comply with it, including cooperating with the war crimes tribunal.

So, there was a period that we did deal with him, but when I became secretary of state, I believed that it was very important to do everything we could to return -- to make sure that Yugoslavia was a part of Europe; not isolated and a war zone, and that we should focus on democracy in Yugoslavia, and in what used to be its constituent part. So, we stopped kind of treating him as if he were the godfather of the situation, and basically decided that we needed to make clear that he had to abide by the law, and not flaunt it the way he had previously and is now.

COSSACK: As you point out, there was the accord in Dayton after the two previous difficulties or wars that he had started with parts of different areas of Yugoslavia. What made us -- what made the United States more ready to believe he would be someone that could be reasonable after Dayton, which he turned out not to be, than before Dayton?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that we thought that we had to bring an end to the killing that was going on. It was a very complicated situation in terms of trying to deal with multiethnic society in Bosnia, and that if he could see and the other leaders could see the value of having peace and try to get away from this nationalism that he had aroused, that there was some possibilities of peace. But what you try to do, Roger, is to work out a way that there can be some end to the killings, and the negotiators then believed that it was worth the effort.

COSSACK: You have met with Slobodan Milosevic. Tell us what kind of person he is?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I only met with him once. I certainly have observed him, and I never met with him after he was indicted as a war criminal. But he alternates being charming, frankly, and trying to show, quote, that he is Western and being a bully. In my meeting with him, he thought that he could charm me initially because I had spent some time in Belgrade and knew Serbs, and then when he tried to give me the whole history of the situation from his version, which was all wrong, I kind of cut him off at the knees and said I knew the story and I didn't want to hear it from him.

So then we had kind of a different kind of a relationship. I talked to him on the phone a couple of times, but basically, he is somebody who alternates, as I said, some charm with the kind of thing you heard this morning where he just flaunted the international system.

COSSACK: Now, we spoke a little bit with Christiane about this, but what effect do you think this will have on the remaining -- on the government of Zoran Djindjic, who has taken Milosevic's place in Yugoslavia for turning over Milosevic to The Hague. Will this have affect on his government?

ALBRIGHT: Well, the agreement that had been made, as Christiane described, there were elections, Milosevic was voted out, and there was the creation of a new government where Kostunica actually became the president of Yugoslavia, and Zoran Djindjic is the prime minister of Serbia, one of the constituent part.

And there had been an alliance between some of the older factions and Zoran Djindjic's reformers and it was a peculiar marriage in the first place, and it was bound to come to some kind of division over a variety of issue, and Djindjic, the reformer, as Christiane said, does have more and more of the support. I think the West needs to support him in what he's trying to do to reform.

But it's going to be rocky for a while. But he is a reformer, Djindjic, and somebody that needs to be supported in a very, very difficult time, not only where various further cooperation is required with the war crimes tribunal in turning over documentation, but also dealing with the deplorable economic situation that Milosevic left his country in.

I mean, the sad part is is that Milosevic played on a sense of victimization that Serbs have had for hundreds of years, and he has turned them now had into major victims; victims where their country is now basically a basket case economically.

COSSACK: And their infrastructure was bombed and totally destroyed.

ALBRIGHT: Even absent the bombing, he basically skimmed money off and put it in his own pocket. There is massive corruption, the whole place is basically in an economic disaster zone.

COSSACK: Judge McDonald, I want to turn to you for some legal help on this issue. Question number one, what happens if the Yugoslav courts decide that the handing of Milosevic over was an illegal act under the Yugoslavian law? What effect would that have, if any, on what's going on in The Hague?

GABRIELLE KIRK MCDONALD, FRM. TRIBUNAL JUDGE: As I understand, Roger, the decree that was passed was found unconstitutional, but there is no need for a decree because international law trumps the state law. So there, it was not necessary to have a decree. So, even though it was held unconstitutional, they proceeded without it.

COSSACK: Let's talk about that issue...


MCDONALD: Now, he can raise that issue, of course, should he decide to continue to participate in the tribunal.

COSSACK: I think he has to begin to decide to participate first.


COSSACK: Let's talk a little bit about the prosecution evidence and how they go ahead and prove this case. He is charged with actual knowledge of knowing what these atrocities were that were going on, and being someone who did nothing to stop them, and in fact, encouraging them. Don't you have to -- or doesn't the prosecutor have to prove actual knowledge in that he was what lawyers call the de jure and de facto, that he was de facto involved?

MCDONALD: Well, in terms of actual knowledge, you can prove that by circumstantial evidence, as you know. Of course, there may be some documentary evidence that I don't know about that the prosecutor may have, but primarily, I would imagine that based on the trials thus far, this would be established through testimony, through the testimony of witnesses.

COSSACK: But wouldn't these witnesses -- I guess I'm thinking about American court. Wouldn't these witnesses have to have the ability to show his actual knowledge? Now, you might be able to find some documentation and circumstantial evidence that may imply his knowledge, but don't -- isn't his actual knowledge required to be proved?

MCDONALD: No, I think if he knew at least under superior authority, if he knew or should have known that his subordinates were engaging in this behavior or if he subsequently learned they were engaging in this behavior and did nothing to stop it, then he would be responsible under the notion of superior authority, and he has been charged with that by the indictment.

COSSACK: Judge McDonald, it is my understanding is that some of these activities, some of these horrible things that are complained of, were done by the police and he is not the head of the police, he would be head of the state army. Is it still enough to have him involved when they will not be able to -- apparently will not be able to show he was the head of the police?

MCDONALD: The prosecutor has alleged in the indictment that because it was a time of war, the police were under the army, and therefore, Milosevic as the supreme commander of the VJ, of the army of the F.R,Y. would have that de facto authority over them.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break.

How will Milosevic defend himself against these war crimes? We'll examine more on how the international tribunal works, right after this.


Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor says she has "serious questions" about whether the death penalty is being fairly administered in the United States. In a speech to the Minnesota Women Lawyers Group, O'Connor said the system may be allowing innocent people to be executed.



COSSACK: We're back, and we've been discussing, of course, the indictment of Slobodan Milosevic which took place this morning at The Hague. Judge McDonald, a couple of other questions for you. First of all, why is Milosevic charged -- why isn't he charged with genocide rather than crimes against humanity?

MCDONALD: Well, I, of course, was not in the prosecutor's office, so I don't know whether there was some tactical reasons for doing this, but genocide requires that there be an intention to destroy in whole or in part either a racial or religious or national or ethnical group. So, you have to make the showing that there was intention to destroy, in part or in whole, a particular group whereas crimes against humanity, you only must show that, in fact, the act was very inhumane and very serious and that it was committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack on a civilian population. And so it's -- there are less elements and perhaps it's easier to prove, but the big difference is this intention to destroy in whole or in part. He's been charged with deportation as a crime against humanity and murder as well.

COSSACK: What about his refusal to accept an attorney and his refusal to participate in the trial? What happens if he refuses to participate in the trial, and says I don't want an attorney, as he said so far; you have no right to have me here, this is an illegal proceeding, and I refuse to take part. What happens then?

MCDONALD: Well, he would represent himself. Under the rules of the tribunal, he may represent himself. However, he must notify the registrar in writing of his intention to do this. But you know the saying, Roger, that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. Now, Mr. Milosevic is not a lawyer, but it would be my advice at least that he retain a lawyer.

COSSACK: And if he would decide that I refuse to notify anyone, I refuse to discuss this, I will come to court because I have no option, but I will just sit here and remain mute, because anything else I do is in some way showing you that I should be here or I'm cooperating with something I shouldn't cooperate, will the trial just go ahead as if he is participating?

MCDONALD: Well, he does not have to testify, as you know. At the tribunal as well as most legal systems there is a right not to incriminate yourself. So, he need not participate. That is he need not put on any evidence, he need not testify, he need not call persons to testify in his behalf. So that's his choice, but I've already told you how I feel about it. I think it would be a good idea to retain counsel.

COSSACK: Madam Secretary, you were at United Nations when they discussed the establishment of this court in The Hague. Tell us about how it got established?

ALBRIGHT: It was a very historic moment because there hasn't been this kind of situation since the Nuremberg trials and I think people looked a lot at the model of that and thought about what kind of tribunal it should be. And then we voted it in May 1993.

Then the whole question was who would be the judges, how would the prosecutor be selected, How would this be supported? I felt very strongly that there should be women judges on the war crimes tribunal because so many of the crimes have been crimes against women, and so we were very pleased when Judge McDonald was the American nominee, and there was also a woman judge from Costa Rica. I must say there was a very small group of women permanent representatives. There were seven of us. We called ourselves the G7.


ALBRIGHT: And had a great deal of, we thought, power, and we did lobby very hard to have women judges. Then there was the whole question of who would be a prosecutor, and the first prosecutor was Richard Goldstone from South Africa. And all along, Roger, people have underestimated the war crimes tribunal.

They didn't think it would ever be set up, that there would be a U.N. resolution. They never thought we'd get the judges. They never thought we'd get the prosecutor. They didn't think anybody would support it. There wasn't a building to be in, and then there were indictments, convictions, and so I think while this process is going to take a very long time, and Americans who are basically impatient, we all need to be patient with this process, but don't underestimate the war crimes tribunal.

COSSACK: Madam Secretary, there has been some criticism or people have said that, in fact, the United States was much more aggressive with Milosevic than perhaps with the same kind of activity from people in Rwanda; that we were less aggressive with trying to bring those people to justice. Is that a good criticism? ALBRIGHT: Well, what we did do was to have a war crimes tribunal for Rwanda, and we set that up also through a United Nations process and there have been indictments for the Rwanda tribunal also, and I think that we've done a pretty good job on that. There is generally a question about how you handle this kind of issue in the 21st century, and we've looked at a lot of hybrid ways of doing it sometimes with national courts, sometimes with truth commissions that we supported; but I think we pushed very hard on Rwanda also.

COSSACK: OK, that's about it for all the time we have today. Thanks to our guests, thank you for watching, and join us again tomorrow for another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.



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