Justice Unlikely to Be Swift, but Prison Is Posh

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is finally in the clutches of the international community that has long accused him of war crimes, but justice is unlikely to be either swift or sure.

And it is unlikely, in the short term at least, to satisfy the multitudes who suffered through a decade of Balkan wars and repression.

Shielded by the democratic world's respect for human rights and the rule of law, concepts that he is accused of violating with abandon, Milosevic will be spending months--if not years--at Scheveningen Prison here in what would seem country-club comfort in comparison with the Belgrade prison where he was held until Thursday.

The Dutch penitentiary where the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia operates a 36-cell detention unit provides each of the court's detainees a furnished private cell about the size of a standard hotel room--150 square feet. Each has an individual bathroom, with shared recreation and living facilities on each of three self-contained floors. Those include a store and kitchen for preparing meals if the detainee doesn't want the offered prison fare, an international library and satellite television with global coverage.

A Running Track and Tennis Court

For 12 hours each day, residents are allowed off their floors to use a fully equipped gymnasium, running track and tennis court.

"Detention for all accused is provided with a presumption of innocence uppermost in mind," said Jim Landale, a spokesman for the tribunal. "Most of those incarcerated here are coming from positions of power and authority and from a culture that is vastly different from ours. As far as the facilities go, they are rather comfortable but for good reason. We have to respect the dignity of the accused."

The U.N.-mandated tribunal filed charges against Milosevic and four of his aides in May 1999 for their government's and troops' repression of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, a province of Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic.

The charges include crimes against humanity--murder, deportation and persecution--and violations of the laws and customs of war. The five former officials could receive a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Reading of Indictment Likely Within a Week

The wheels of justice will begin rolling relatively soon, with a reading of the indictment against Milosevic in one of the tribunal's three courtrooms expected within a week. He will be advised of his rights and accorded an opportunity to enter a plea at that time.

But the man who mastered the art of delay and obfuscation as he clung to power for 13 years will have fresh opportunities to practice those techniques here as well. Tribunal procedures allow an indictee to challenge the court's jurisdiction as well as the three judges who will be assigned by the tribunal president, Claude Jorda.

"A defendant can bring various motions before the pretrial period begins, but with the accumulation of case law over the last few years these proceedings can now be sped up," Landale said.

Once an accused enters a plea--or a plea of not guilty is entered on behalf of a noncompliant indictee--the open-ended pretrial phase begins. Milosevic will have the right to a court-appointed and free defense team if he can show he is unable to pay for his own. However, he already had retained an eight-man legal team to represent him in Belgrade, the Yugoslav and Serbian capital, where he was arrested in April on domestic corruption charges.

His lawyers include Toma Fila, who has represented four other indictees facing war crimes charges in proceedings here. That means Fila has been vetted by tribunal justices, who require outside counsel to adhere to their own detailed rules of engagement.

Fila failed to win acquittals in his four previous cases before the tribunal.

Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte of Switzerland will have to disclose the evidence in her possession to Milosevic's lawyers in the process of discovery that applies to criminal trials in most democratic countries. The defense then has as much time as it reasonably needs to amass evidence and witnesses for rebuttal, although Jorda will appoint a pretrial judge to oversee that stage and ensure there are no unnecessary delays.

But given the severity of the charges against Milosevic and the unprecedented prosecution of a former head of state, tribunal authorities concede privately that the pretrial phase could last a year or more.

Once the trial begins, the prosecution plans to call dozens of witnesses interviewed before the May 1999 indictment. The investigations were conducted under the direction of Del Ponte's predecessor, Louise Arbour of Canada, but the prosecution staff has maintained contact with the witnesses it plans to call to testify to the accusations, including 344 killings specified in the indictment, said a tribunal source.

The U.N. tribunal, established in 1993, is authorized to prosecute four sets of offenses: grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, violations of the laws or customs of war, genocide and crimes against humanity.

Its proceedings and rules of evidence are borrowed largely from British common law. But, as is the tradition on the Continent, defendants have no right to a jury; all cases are decided by a majority vote of a three-judge panel.

The tribunal has completed proceedings against only six war crimes suspects so far and has trials underway against 10 other indictees. Twelve people are appealing their convictions. The completed trials averaged about a year each, said Landale, who conceded that the more sensitive and complicated case against Milosevic could run longer. The former president would have the right to appeal any conviction.

If Milosevic is convicted and sentenced, he would serve out his term in one of seven countries that offer to host those convicted of war crimes: Finland, Sweden, Norway, France, Italy, Austria and Spain. Milosevic's destination will be decided only if and when he is sentenced.

Meanwhile, he will have the right to visits from family members, defense attorneys and Yugoslav consular officials as often as wanted during visiting hours--nearly eight hours on weekdays and Saturdays and five hours on Sundays. Detainees are allowed to have gifts and as many personal belongings as can reasonably be accommodated in their cells, and they are allowed to wear whatever they choose as the detention facility issues no mandatory garb.

One consolation Milosevic's victims and critics might have in considering the physical comforts he will be accorded is the resentful company he will have to keep. All residents of the detention facility have access to the common rooms and recreation facilities, and the man held responsible for bringing the rest of them here may find his social surroundings more hostile.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
72°