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UN inquiry: death of genocide mastermind Milosevic

UN tribunal investigating death of accused genocide mastermind Slobodan Milosevic

The United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) today announced an inquiry into the circumstances of the death Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic – the most notorious suspect to be indicted for crimes committed during the wars that engulfed the Balkans in the 1990s – who passed away in detention on Saturday.

The Dutch authorities are also conducting an inquest, according to ICTY President Judge Fausto Pocar, who issued a press statement today conveying his “profound disappointment” that the trial against the ex-leader will not be concluded. “It is extremely unfortunate that the victims and their families will not have a final answer in this case on the criminal responsibility of the accused,” he said.

Mr. Pocar has ordered a “full inquiry” to be headed by ICTY Vice-President Judge Kevin Parker. “The Vice-President is being assisted by several Tribunal staff and will provide his report to the President as soon as possible.”

A Dutch forensic team, including coroners, carried out an examination of Slobodan Milosevic and his cell yesterday but were unable to establish a cause of death and ordered an autopsy, President Focar said. Senior pathologists selected by Mr. Milosevic's home Government of Serbia and Montenegro will observe the autopsy.

Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said she deeply regrets the fact that Slobodan Milosevic's death “deprives the victims of the justice they need and deserve.”

In a press statement, she noted that Mr. Milosevic was facing 66 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo between 1991 and 1999. “These crimes affected hundreds of thousands of victims throughout the former Yugoslavia.”

During the prosecution case, 295 witnesses testified and 5,000 exhibits were presented to the court. “This represents a wealth of evidence that is on the record,” Ms. Del Ponte said, recalling that the ICTY had ruled that the prosecution case contained sufficient evidence capable of supporting a conviction on all 66 counts.

The defense was given the same amount of time as the prosecution to present its case and, after 466 hearing days, had just 40 hours left. The Prosecutor predicted that the trial would have been completed by the end of the Spring.

While voicing regret that no verdict will be rendered, Ms. Del Ponte stressed that other senior leaders have been indicted for the crimes for which Slobodan Milosevic was also accused. Some will be tried later this year but the most senior perpetrators are still at large. “Now more than ever, I expect Serbia to finally arrest and transfer Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karad?ic to The Hague as soon as possible,” the Prosecutor declared. “The death of Slobodan Milosevic makes it even more urgent for them to face justice.”

Medical problems plagued President Milosevic over the course of his trial, and the court repeatedly interrupted the proceedings to accommodate his health concerns, most recently last December, when it granted the former leader's request for a six-week rest. Mr. Milosevic's heart condition prompted examinations by a court-appointed cardiologist and resulted in frequent delays.

Mr. Milosevic had spent three quarters of his time arguing the Kosovo indictment, prompting the court to accuse him of pursuing a delaying strategy whereby he could request more time. The ICTY, by contrast, had been seeking a fair and expeditious conclusion to the case.

Born on 20 August 1941, Slobodan Milosevic rose to become President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Supreme Commander of the Yugoslav Army, and President of the Supreme Defence Council. In addition to his titular powers, Mr. Milosevic exercised widespread control over much of the country's structures. He was considered one of the prime architects of the heinous atrocities that accompanied the break-up of Yugoslavia and stood accused of the worst crimes known to man – genocide, crimes against humanity, violations of the laws or customs of war, and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.

Mr. Milosevic was transferred to the ICTY after surrendering on 1 April 2001 in Belgrade. In successive appearances before the court, he pleaded not guilty to all counts against him.

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