Small Bites 3 The ICTY: Bored to Distraction
The Hague Tribunal was from the outset notorious for the inordinate length of its trials. When Slobodan Milosevic died in custody his trial had been underway for 4 years and yet the case for his defence had barely begun. All the other major cases were similarly protracted. But why was this when justice delayed is justice denied?
Every indication points to a fundamental lack of firm evidence. Proper criminal trials are preceded by independent professional investigations – a core requirement and feature of due process. In the case of the ICTY this simply did not happen. No such investigations took place. The tribunal had only a small team of investigators, selected and employed by the ICTY, to gather information from ‘eyewitnesses’, western intelligence sources and media coverage.
By contrast a proper, police-style investigation would have a structured and disciplined course, checking thoroughly all claims and assertions and collecting hard evidence to support or disprove them.
In the absence of methodically gathered evidence, the Hague prosecutors were forced to use their time in court to indulge in endless fishing expeditions which they hoped would land sufficient facts to make their case or at least create a strong enough whiff of guilt to give some credence to a conviction.
Proper courts would never allow such abuse of process. Unsupported cases of this kind would not even secure an indictment, let alone merit a court hearing.
But the Hague Tribunal was not created to dispense justice – its job was to secure convictions. It was a political not a judicial construct. Half its judges had no formal legal training or professional court room experience. They were handpicked and appointed to produce a predetermined outcome. The tribunal was about confirming prejudice not obtaining justice.
How did they get away with it? Perhaps the crucial factor was that the excruciating length and dullness of ICTY proceedings caused most journalists to lose interest within a week or two of a trial starting. They were bored to death while the accused were unjustly being sentenced for life. When verdicts were finally handed down months or even years later, few journalists felt well-enough informed to ask challenging questions. That is all it takes for a travesty to be seen as truth.