June 2, 2001

The Deportation of Slobodan Milosevic

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The deportation of former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia was a direct result of blackmail by the United States. Desperate to rebuild its economy, the Serbian government capitulated to U.S. threats: deliver Milosevic to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, or the U.S. would see to it that Yugoslavia didn’t get the foreign aid it critically needs.

Ten years of punishing sanctions against the people of Yugoslavia coupled with U.S.-led NATO’s 78-day bombing campaign have left the country’s economy in shambles. Damage to the Yugoslav economy is estimated at $4 billion. One million people live below the poverty level, half the population is unemployed, and Yugoslavia has an annual inflation rate of 150 percent and a foreign debt of $12 billion.

The U.S. destroyed the economy of Yugoslavia, killed or wounded thousands of its people – including civilians – and then promised megabucks to the Serbs if they would cough up Milosevic. Usually the ransom is paid to end the kidnapping. This time it was ponied up as a reward for the kidnap. And the payoff? $1.28 billion in aid from the July 29 donors conference, orchestrated by the United States.

Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic arranged the deportation by circumventing the recently elected President of Yugoslavia, Vojislav Kostunica. According to Sara Flounders, National Co-Director of the International Action Center, “Milosevic was sold to the U.S. by their man in Belgrade. Imagine a governor of a state in the U.S. overriding the federal government and constitution to surrender a U.S. citizen to another country.”

Kostunica, adamantly committed to due process, insisted that Yugoslavia’s judicial procedures be followed before Milosevic was delivered to the ICTY in The Hague. The deportation, which Kostunica said could not be characterized as legal and constitutional, violated Yugoslavia’s constitution, parliament, Constitutional Court, and decisions of President Kostunica. Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark denounced the deportation as “an enormous tragedy for Yugoslavia, the Serbian people and the rule of law.”

While the leaders of the Western world cheer the “extradition” of Milosevic – a misnomer because he wasn’t sent to another country, but to an international tribunal – the fragile democracy in Yugoslavia has been dealt a severe blow. Ramsey Clark thinks the real purpose of the deportation, sanctions, bombing and demonization of the Serbs “is to reduce all of the former Yugoslavia to the status of a U.S./NATO colony.”

Kostunica has decried the partiality of the ICTY for its hypocrisy in indicting Serbs, but refusing to indict NATO leaders for war crimes committed in the course of the 1999 bombing. NATO bombs killed 1500-2000 civilians and injured thousands more. When I was in Yugoslavia last year, I saw schools, hospitals, bridges, libraries and homes reduced to rubble. The ICTY statute prohibits the targeting of civilians. And even though it also forbids the use of poisonous weapons calculated to cause unnecessary suffering, NATO used depleted uranium and cluster bombs whose devastating character is widely known. NATO also targeted a petrochemical complex, releasing carcinogens into the air that reached 10,600 times the acceptable safety level.

Yet the ICTY conducted only a perfunctory investigation of charges of NATO war crimes. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch criticized the ICTY for failing to thoroughly investigate these serious charges. Kostunica’s allegation of the ICTY’s bias is not surprising. NATO spokesperson Jamie Shea stated in May 1999, “Of course NATO supports the ICTY – NATO created it.”

The prosecutors of the Vietnam War – Lyndon Baines Johnson, Henry Kissinger and Robert McNamara – were never tried for war crimes for causing the deaths of 3 million Vietnamese people. It was McNamara who defined most of the Vietnamese countryside, populated by peasants, as a free-fire zone. He wrote in a letter to LBJ in 1967: “The picture of the world’s greatest superpower killing or seriously injuring 1,000 noncombatants a week, while trying to pound a tiny backward nation into submission on an issue whose merits are hotly disputed, is not a pretty one.” McNamara admitted his complicity in a 1995 memoir.

Indeed, the hypocrisy of the United States government is no more evident than in its refusal to ratify the statute for the International Criminal Court, out of fear that U.S. leaders might become defendants in war crimes prosecutions. Yet, our government was baffled when the United States — the world’s human rights policeman — was voted off the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

Most of the Serbs I have spoken with are outraged by Milosevic’s alleged atrocities, and they feel he should be tried and punished for crimes he committed. But there is a widespread perception in Yugoslavia that Serbs are being collectively targeted for what their leaders have done. Many feel that Milosevic and other indicted Yugoslav leaders should be tried first in Yugoslavia for crimes committed against the Yugoslav people.

A fundamental principle of international law is complementarity: the international tribunals complement – they don’t supplant – the courts of nation states. Most of the former Latin American military leaders charged with human rights abuses that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s are facing justice in their respective countries. The Yugoslavians should be able to judge their own leaders before the they are judged by the international community.

Count 1 of the Indictment against Slobodan Milosevic charges him with “Deportation, a crime against humanity . . .” He must be accountable for what he has done. But the U.S.-engineered deportation of Milosevic is a crime against the people of Yugoslavia.