Milosevic at the Hague : a legal watershed

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) today described the handing over of the Former Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, to the Hague Tribunal as a legal watershed.

It marks the first time that the international community will hold a former head of state to account for war crimes and crimes against humanity. It sends an unequivocal signal that impunity for these gross violations of international law will not be tolerated, irrespective of the office of the perpetrator.

International law imposes an incontrovertible obligation on the Government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) to extend full co-operation to the Tribunal. That obligation is absolute. It cannot be the subject of substantive review by a domestic court. Concerns that the government side-stepped the objections of the Constitutional Court in transferring Milosevic to the Hague are misplaced.

Unlike the Nuremburg Tribunal established after Word War II by the four victorious powers, the Hague Tribunal is a creation of the international community. By invoking its mandatory powers to preserve international peace and security under the UN Charter, the Security Council established the Hague Tribunal in 1993. This gave concrete expression to the outrage of the international community at serious violations of international criminal law committed in the former Yugoslavia since 1991. The FRY Government has always been bound to respect and cooperate with that expression of international will.

For the moment, Milosevic has only been indicted for crimes directed against the Kosovo Albanian civilian population. These charges should be widened to encompass prior conflicts in Bosnia and Croatia and ensure that Milosevic faces criminal responsibility for all his actions.

The crimes for which he is indicted are internationally recognised as an affront to humanity. His indictment during his term as head of state signalled an end to impunity for those heads of state who seek to use their office as a shield against justice.

During its seven years of operation, the Hague Tribunal has consistently observed the highest standards of due process and procedural fairness. These same standards must also apply to Milosevic.

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