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UN War Crimes Tribunal acquits former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, convicts 5 others of crimes in Kosovo

The International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia

The International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) acquitted former Serbian President Milan Miltutinovic today of charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but found five other former Serbian officials guilty. The press release of the ICTY explains:

Five former high-ranking Yugoslav and Serbian political, military and police officials were today convicted by Trial Chamber III of the Tribunal for crimes against humanity committed in Kosovo in 1999.

Former Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister, Nikola Šainović, Yugoslav Army (VJ) General, Nebojša Pavković and Serbian police General Sreten Lukić were each sentenced to 22 years’ imprisonment for crimes against humanity and violation of the laws or customs of war.

Yugoslav Army General, Vladimir Lazarević and Chief of the General Staff, Dragoljub Ojdanić were found guilty of aiding and abetting the commission of a number of charges of deportation and forcible transfer of the ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo and each sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment.

Milan Milutinović, the former President of Serbia, was acquitted of all charges.

Former Serbian President Milan Multinovic

Former Serbian President Milan Multinovic

The press release notes:

Today’s Judgement is the first handed down by the Tribunal for crimes perpetrated by Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) and Serbian forces against Kosovo Albanians during the 1999 conflict in Kosovo.

The Prosecution charged the six with crimes committed during a campaign of terror and violence directed against the ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo in early 1999. Each of the Accused was alleged to have participated in a joint criminal enterprise, the purpose of which was to modify the ethnic balance in Kosovo to ensure continued control by the Serbian authorities. The plan was to be executed by criminal means, including deportations, murders, forcible transfers and persecutions of Kosovo Albanians.

Analysing evidence from the trial proceedings in relation to crime sites across 13 of Kosovo’s municipalities, the Trial Chamber found that there was a broad campaign of violence directed against the Kosovo Albanian civilian population during the course of NATO air-strikes in FRY that began on 24 March 1999.  This campaign was conducted by army and Interior Ministry police forces (MUP) under the control of FRY and Serbian authorities, who were responsible for mass expulsions of Kosovo Albanian civilians from their homes, as well as incidents of killing, sexual assault, and the intentional destruction of mosques.

“It was the deliberate actions of these forces during this campaign that caused the departure of at least 700,000 Kosovo Albanians from Kosovo in the short period of time between the end of March and beginning of June 1999,” Judge Iain Bonomy, Presiding, stated in the courtroom.

Such crimes are found to have happened in 13 municipalities of Kosovo: Orahovac/Rahovec, Prizren, Srbica/Skenderaj, Suva Reka/Suharekё, Peć/Pejё, Kosovska Mitrovica/Mitrovicё, Priština/Prishtinё, Ðakovica/Gjakovё, Gnjilane/Gjilan, Uroševac/Ferizaj, Kačanik/Kaçanik, Dečanin/Deçan and Vučitrn/Vushtrri.

The Trial Chamber found that these crimes were committed in the execution of a joint criminal enterprise, the purpose of which was to “use violence and terror to force a significant number of Kosovo Albanians from their homes and across the borders, in order for the state authorities to maintain control over Kosovo”.

This “widespread campaign of violence that was directed against the Kosovo Albanian population between March and June 1999” was “conducted in an organised manner, utilising significant state resources,” the Trial Chamber found.

The Trial Chamber enumerated other elements supporting the existence of a joint criminal enterprise.  They included, “the events leading up to the conflict; the arming of non-Albanian civilians in Kosovo and simultaneous disarming of Kosovo Albanians; the breakdown of negotiations to end the Kosovo crisis at the same time as the October [1998] Agreements were being breached by the FRY and Serbian authorities; and the concealment of bodies of Kosovo Albanians killed by VJ and MUP forces”.

The Trial Chamber found that Nikola Šainović, Nebojša Pavković, and Sreten Lukić all participated in the joint criminal enterprise, and made a significant contribution to its execution.

The Chamber found that Nikola Šainović was “one of the closest and most trusted associates of [Slobodan] Milošević,” the former FRY President and “one of the most crucial members of that common [joint criminal] enterprise”.

“He was a powerful official in the FRY Government, who not only relayed information to Milošević and conveyed Milošević’s instructions to those in Kosovo, but also had a great deal of influence over events in the province and was empowered to make decisions,” Judge Bonomy read.

Although he was aware of the crimes committed by VJ and MUP forces, Šainović failed to use his “extensive authority in Kosovo” or his own initiative to ensure they stop.

Sainović was found guilty of deportation, forcible transfer, murder and persecution as a crime against humanity and violations of laws or customs of war. He was sentenced to 22 years’ imprisonment.

Nebojša Pavković was the commander of VJ’s 3rd Army, which encompassed both the Priština Corps and the Niš Corps, and therefore “had substantial de jure and de facto command authority over VJ forces in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999”.

“There is no doubt that his contribution to the joint criminal enterprise was significant, as he utilised the VJ forces at his disposal to terrorise and violently expel Kosovo Albanian civilians from their homes,” the Chamber found.

The commission of murder, sexual assault and the deliberate destruction of or damage to mosques, by the VJ and MUP forces, were reasonably foreseeable to Pavković yet “he sometimes under-reported and minimised the serious criminal wrongdoing in his reports sent up to the Supreme Command Staff”.

Pavković was found guilty of deportation, forcible transfer, murder and persecution as a crime against humanity and violations of laws or customs of war. He was sentenced to 22 years’ imprisonment.

The Trial Chamber found that Sreten Lukić was “a de facto commander of MUP forces in Kosovo from mid-1998 to mid-1999, as well as being the bridge between the actions of the MUP on the ground in Kosovo and the overarching policies and plans decided in Belgrade”. It concluded that he was thus an important participant in the joint criminal enterprise.

The evidence established that Lukić had detailed knowledge of events in Kosovo as they developed, as well as being informed of allegations of criminal conduct by MUP personnel there.  However, the Chamber was not convinced by the evidence that Lukić was involved in the concealment of these crimes through the clandestine transportation of civilian bodies from Kosovo to other parts of Serbia.

Sreten Lukić was found guilty of deportation, forcible transfer, murder and persecution as a crime against humanity and violation of laws or customs of war. He was sentenced to 22 years’ imprisonment.

As for Dragoljub Ojdanić, the Chamber found that, as Chief of the General Staff, he “exercised command and control over all units and organs of the VJ”.

While it did not find him to have had the intent to expel Kosovo Albanians from their homes, the Chamber found that, “Ojdanić provided practical assistance, encouragement, or moral support to members of the VJ who he knew intended to commit deportation and forcible transfer. His conduct had a substantial effect on the actual commission of these crimes by VJ forces in some of the locations charged in the Indictment”.

On this basis he was found to have aided and abetted the commission of a number of the charges of deportation and forcible transfer in the Indictment.  He was not, however, found responsible for murder or persecution.

Ojdanić was found guilty of deportation and forcible transfer as a crime against humanity. He was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment.

General Vladimir Lazarević, the Commander of Pristina Corps, was not “necessarily aware of all the political decision-making that generally took place in Belgrade, and did not participate in high-level meetings there,” the Chamber found. However, Lazarević was supportive of the commission of crimes throughout Kosovo by Yugoslav Army and Police forces in a widespread and systematic attack targeting Kosovo Albanians and was therefore found to have aided and abetted the commission of a number of the charges of deportation and forcible transfer in the Indictment. Lazarević was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment.

The Chamber found that the Prosecution had not proved that the former Serbian President, Milan Milutinović, made a significant contribution to the joint criminal enterprise, nor that he had actual control over the actions of the VJ and MUP forces in Kosovo.

Milutinović did not have direct individual control over the VJ, a federal institution, the Chamber found. “In practice, it was [Slobodan] Milošević, sometimes termed the ‘Supreme Commander’, who exercised actual command authority over the VJ during the NATO campaign”.

Milutinović was therefore acquitted on all counts of the Indictment.

The full opinion of the Tribunal can be found here.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.