by Slobodan IKONIC
As early as Monday, federal justice minister Momcilo Grubac submitted the request of the International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague for the extradition of former FRY president Slobodan Milosevic, indicted for war crimes committed in Kosovo, to the District Court in Belgrade. Similar requests will be submitted for 16 more people on the Hague list of persons indicted for war crimes.
Yugoslavia has thus resolved the difficult issue of cooperation with the Hague tribunal according to the same scenario we have seen before - using a shortcut and at the last minute. Just as Milosevic's arrest was a TV farce carried out in the last minutes prior to a deadline for withdrawal of sanctions, the passing of this decree and its implementation is but a poor mask for forced moves on the eve of the donators' conference in Brussels.
Even though deputy prime minister Labus had enumerated what Yugoslavia stood to lose by failing to ratify the law on cooperation with The Hague (approximately 70 billion dollars) while the Yugoslav Parliament was still in session (from which the that law was withdrawn because it was obvious that it would not be ratified), after the decree was passed he said: "We are not selling anybody but only fulfilling our international obligations as a fully privileged member of the international community. In Brussels we are talking about financial cooperation and I will not permit a linkage between these two separate issues." Thus after nine months of a nonchalant approach towards this issue, it was tranformed from "the last thing on our minds" into something quite hard to swallow.
What was hard to swallow was the decree on cooperation with the Hague tribunal passed at a session of the federal government on June 23 which regulates the procedure for the cooperation of FRY with the international tribunal for the criminal prosecution of persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian laws committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia from 1991 and the fulfillment of obligations foreseen for FRY by UN Security Council Resolution 828 (1993) and the statute of the Hague tribunal. Requests for cooperation or execution of individual decisions of the tribunal are submitted to the federal ministry of justice. After establishing the formal validity of the request, the federal ministry of justice will submit it to the appropriate organ for further action. Those organs are councils of the district or superior court of jurisdiction which also include judges. The appropriate public or state prosecutor, the accused and his defendant can submit an appeal against their decisions within a period of eight days prior to the execution of the decision. The appeal is then considered by the Serbian Supreme Court consisting of a council of five judges within a period of 15 days after it is filed. Once it has made a decision, it is forwarded together with a court order on the matter to the state ministry in charge of justice matters. In essence, the process is the same as in the case where the extradition of a foreign citizen is involved.
The session of the federal government was chaired by deputy prime minister Miroljub Labus; absent were representatives of the Montenegrin Socialist People's Party (SNP), including federal prime minister Zoran Zizic, the vice-president of that party. The only member of the SNP to attend the session was federal health minister Miodrag Kovac who voted against, and who came for the specific purpose of repeating the already well-known position of his party with respect to the Hague tribunal. The members of the SNP offered their party their resignations to their positions in the federal government and the decision on whether to accept them will be made by the main board of the SNP. /Trans. note: The resignations were accepted on Friday, June 29, resulting in the collapse of the Yugoslav government./
"In our opinion cooperation cannot be reduced to the extradition of our citizens and we believe that trials can be conducted before our judicial organs or that a mechanism should be sought with the Hague tribunal so that they, too, can participate in mixed /judicial/ councils or in some other manner in trials of the accused citizens of FRY," SNP president Predrag Bulatovic explained the views of his party in the last issue of NIN. The SNP position was well-known during the proposal of the draft law on cooperation with The Hague. Its position on the matter was actually known even earlier which leads to the conclusion that the assessment of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) was that the SNP could be forced to change its position through a combination of pressure and coercion. However, this turned out not to be the case. This erroneous assessment not only left the impression of a unstable and disfunctional coalition at the federal level but brought into question the survival of the federal government and consequently, of the federal state, itself.
In the opinion of Zoran Lutovac of the Social Sciences Institute "jumping into such a serious story without a previously determined scenario and the necessary majority in the federal parliament demonstrated a certain lack of seriousness and created a feeling of nausea among the general public". Lutovac emphasizes that there has been talk for months and years how Milo Djukanovic and his Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) want to destroy the federal state while it took only a moment for the SNP to bring the existence of the state into question. "The people from the SNP will say this isn't true and that they're just being consistent, that they want Yugoslavia but not unconditional cooperation with the international community which poses the question whether the SNP is in a position to interpret what is an international obligation," concludes Lutovac.
The desire of the SNP to see persons accused for war crimes first tried here may have been viable at the beginning of the year when such signals were being received from the international community, too. However, a lengthy delay accompanied by not entirely convincing justifications which could be heard from DOS (including everything from lack of evidence to some kind of technical problems) were not accepted by the international community; instead, it chose to use pressure and even blackmail as the most effective means.
Internal DOS disagreements with respect to the Hague issue were no less responsible for this outcome. This was apparent as far back as the discussion on the law on cooperation with the Hague. None of the proposed solutions was accepted which, added to the position of the SNP, only served to complicate matters even more. What could be surmised was clarified by FRY president Vojislav Kostunica at an emergency press conference where he said that he personally advocated that the states, in this case, Serbia, each ratify a law on cooperation with The Hague, especially because the federal state was in great crisis. "This could have been done temporarily until the issue of the federal state and its functioning, survival and existence could not be resolved in a valid manner. There was no willingness to accept something like this in DOS and finally the solution regarding a decree passed by the federal government was found, together with all its legal shortcomings."
Placing primary emphasis on two obstacles to better solutions - pressure from Washington on the international plan and the majority decision of the DOS leaders, President Kostunica said: "Within DOS, the Democratic Party of Serbia and I found ourselves in the minority. Now we are confronted with the same choice which is painful and difficult and must not be presented publicly as some sort of moral catharsis through which the Serbs will save their soul."
Both the professional and the general public have split along these political seams. While some see no problem in the passing of the decree and consider it both constitutional and legitimate, others attack it and seek its abolition. Professional criticism generally is along the lines of negating the decree itself as a sublegislative act that cannot be used to regulate legal process matters, especially matters regarding criminal law, which is related to the most important human rights. These matters are firmly regulated by law and decrees in this domain can be implemented only during times of war or national emergency, neither of which is the case today.
Milosevic's legal defense team immediately filed with the Federal Constitutional Court a request for the assessment of the constitutionality and legality of the decree and requested that implementation of the act and all activities undertaken on the basis of the decree be frozen while the constitutionality and legality of the decree were under assessment. This was also done by the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) which at the same time organized a protest gathering in Belgrade's Republic Square. They were also joined by a group of 51 professors of law from the University of Belgrade (from Prof. Dr. Kosta Cavoski to Prof. Dr. Ratko Markovic).
Some stricter interpretations not only consider the decree to be unconstitutional but also emphasize that the very Constitution, without the participation of one of two federal units, has been reduced to a political function while the issue of constitutionality has become irrelevant. "This is an attempt to conduct a 'bypass' so as to include the domestic legal system in the international scheme since international law has never been directly implemented; there has always been either a convention ratified or some other legislative act to introduce /international law/ into the domestic legal system. This is more an attempt to salvage our dignity by some type of act just so that we can say that we decided something. It is a clear example that fact is stronger than an act," says one eminent professor.
The Constitutional Court still has not advised of its decision even though there are indications that there is little chance that the decree will be considered in rush proceedings but instead in regular proceedings which have no time restrictions. On the other hand, the proceedings for the extradition of Milosevic and his collaborators are already in process and a shortened appeals period has also been announced which would reduce the entire proceeding to a few days. Serbian premier Zoran Djindjic even announced the possibility that Milosevic may find himself in The Hague as early as Friday, June 29, the first day of the donors' conference. Even President Kostunica denied this possibility, claiming that this was impossible if the time frame for proceedings given in the decree is to be honored. /trans. note: on Thursday, June 28, the Constitutional Court froze the decree pending its decision on its constitutionality. Former FRY president Slobodan Milosevic was extradited to the Hague Tribunal within hours from the announcement of this news./
It will be of little consolation to the defense and those who support it if the decree is declared to be unconstitutional and is abolished. Since the state leadership has decided to honor international provisions on which the Hague tribunal is also founded, Milosevic may be extradited even without the decree. And while American and other world media report that the only obstacle to extradition is the period for appeals, not even doubting the outcome of the court decision, the only thing left for Milosevic to do is start reading the Bible. Perhaps by reading of the suffering and the endurance which are the subjects of the books of the Old and New Testaments he, too, will find a spiritual signpost in the recognition of his personal responsibility for the horrible fate of the people whom he led for 13 years with all his power and arrogance.