Human Right Watch: Weighing the Evidence


Julie Wilkinson
Sri Peddu
Nina Arron

Human Rights Watch

The impact of Slobodan Milosevic’s indictment and trial on Serbian politics appears somewhat debatable [I think you mean a different word. The impact is certainly “debatable,” as is being done, but I think you may mean the impact appears “negligible”]. Although his initial indictment for war crimes in Kosovo on May 27, 1999, does not appear to have contributed directly to his downfall, some commentators contend that it added to Serbia’s isolation and caused Milosevic to resort to increased political oppression in order to tighten his grip on Serbia, thus indirectly causing him to lose popularity. Milosevic’s downfall, it seems, was made possible only after the political opposition received coordinated assistance from the U.S. State Department in planning and executing their political campaign.

Many observers and human rights activists heralded Milosevic’s transfer to The Hague and eventual trial as an unprecedented opportunity to hold a head of state accountable for atrocities committed by his regime. However, the way in which prosecutors structured the proceedings prevented the Serbian public from
engaging with the issues of the trial, and Milosevic’s skillful manipulation of his rights as a defendant allowed him to use the trial to bully and intimidate witnesses, and to perpetuate loyalty among his followers. Perhaps this trial’s
most lasting lesson will be that future tribunals need to engage all sections of society to be effective.

While Milosevic’s indictment appears to have had debatable impact on Serbian politics, his trial has caused some Serbs to question the actions of their state and to acknowledge its involvement in perpetrating crimes against civilians.