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Professor Marjorie Cohn
Thomas Jefferson School of Law
JURIST Contributing Editor

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.

Marjorie Cohn is an associate professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego. She participated in a conference on the ethics of humanitarian intervention in Belgrade last year. She welcomes comments on this essay at

July 2, 2001


  • I strongly believe that if we want to be just about the war crimes in former Yugoslavia, then it is both Milosevic and the US and NATO forces that should sit on the stand. The distraction of Belgrade as well as the highly increased cancer cases in the area should not simply pass as war casualties; not if we want to consider ourselves fair and civilised!

    Yolanda Bossini

  • Your article on the deportation of Milosevic is excellent but for one point. Kostunica is just as guilty as Djindjic. The two of them in the view of the International Committee To Defend Slobodan Milosevic are playing the good cop- bad cop routine and Kostunica is portrayed as and portrays himself as just a dupe. He is not. The whole strategy is to make him look palatable to the people of Yugoslavia when, in fact, he did nothing when Milosevic was arrested, changed his tune from opposition to extradition to supporting it, and did nothing to prevent the deportation in the face of blunt statements by Djindjic that it would happen no matter what. And he has done nothing in response since.

    Many in the west are making a big mistake to think that Djindjic is the bad guy (he is) and Kostunica is the good guy. It's all a charade. Kostunica was in on it from the beginning.

    Christopher Black
    Chair, Legal Committee
    International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic
    Toronto, Ontario, Canada

  • I entirely agree with the writer, but, alas, I am already among the converted. The question is, how to reach those who are still under the spell of NATO's propaganda.

    To the US hypocracy section one should also add the de facto support Pol Pot received from the US, not to mention the fact that Barbi was shielded for years by the US until brought before a French court for his war crimes. And then there is the list of arch-Nazis who became honourable US citizens, like Werner von Braun. Indeed, people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones!

    Dr Joseph Alexander Norland

  • Have been thinking about the ICTY's Amended Indictment of Milosevic et al. Note that one of the charges against them is that "planned, instigated, ordered committed or otherwise aided and abetted the planning, preparation or execution of...

    Count 1: Deportation, a CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY, punishable under Article 5(d) of the Statute of the Tribunal. (Par. 26).

    And in Par. 23, we read that

    "Beginning on or about 1 January 1999 and continuing until 20 June 1999, the forces of the FRY and Serbia, acting at the direction, with the encouragement, or with the support of Slobodan MILOSEVIC [et. al.]..., perpetrated the actions set forth in paragraphs 18 through 22, which resulted in the forced deportation of approximately 740,000 Kosovo Albanian civilians. These actions were undertaken in all areas of Kosovo, and these means and methods were used throughout the province...."

    Notice, however, that simultaneous with the Kosovar Albanian refugee flows depicted by the ICTY as "forced deportations," there was a sizeable (and percentage-wise LARGER) refugee from both within and from Kosovo of ALL ethnic groups (ethnic Serbs, etc.). And yet nowhere in the ICTY's indictment is this fact mentioned. Of course, one would presume that if Milosevic et al. exercised command responsibility in causing Kosovar Albanian to flee, then surely they exercised command responsibility in causing ethnic NON-ALBANIANS to flee.

    Why aren't these refugees mentioned in the Amended Indictment???

    A point worth hammering at.

    David Peterson
    Chicago, USA

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JURIST Contributing Editor Marjorie Cohn is an associate professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, where she teaches Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Evidence, and International Human Rights Law. A news consultant for CBS News and a commentator for Court TV, she has co-authored a book on cameras in the courtroom with veteran CBS News Correspondent David Dow. Professor Cohn has also published articles about criminal justice, international human rights, U.S. foreign policy and impeachment. She is editor of the National Lawyers Guild Practitioner and is on the Roster of Experts of the Institute for Public Accuracy. A criminal defense attorney at the trial and appellate levels for many years, Professor Cohn was also staff counsel to the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board. She has lectured at regional, national and international conferences, and was a legal observer in Iran on behalf of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers.

Professor Cohn is a graduate of Stanford University and the University of Santa Clara School of Law. She welcomes comments on her columns at