When the trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic begins Tuesday, he won't be the only one to face the test of a lifetime. The U.N. War Crimes Tribunal itself faces a major challenge.
Milosevic's case is already being billed as Europe's most important since the Nuremberg proceedings against Nazi Germany's leaders, and his primary legal strategy appears to be to challenge the legitimacy of the proceedings.
Ever since he first appeared before the court in The Hague, Netherlands, in July 2001, the 60-year-old former Balkan strongman has challenged the legitimacy of the court, refusing to appoint defense lawyers, and insisting on speaking for himself.
He has branded the court a blatantly illegal body, manipulated by his Western foes, and set up to condemn him, Yugoslavia and Serbs.
"It is without doubt political and has been called on to judge and condemn not just Slobodan Milosevic but the state of Serbia and Yugoslavia and the Serbs for the guilt that others are responsible for," his brother Borislav told Reuters today.
Borislav said the tribunal had no legitimacy since the U.N. Security Council had no mandate to set up such a court, and said he was suspicious about how it was financed, because it had no controlling mechanism to monitor its procedures and no appeal system.
He also said charges against his brother were "impossible," because his brother was a co-signatory of the Dayton peace agreement that established peace in the region.
Attack the Attackers
Supporters of Milosevic accuse the West of turning on him as a scapegoat after using him as a "peacemaker" in the mid-1990s.
One of Milosevic's advisers, Zdenko Tomanovic, told The Associated Press he would ask the court "why several world leaders had supported his policies, and now the prosecutor says that those policies were criminal."
Milosevic reportedly plans to demand that several former and present world leaders — including former U.S. President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former NATO head Javier Solana, and U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke — appear before the court to testify to their change in attitude toward him.
Another adviser, Jacques Verger, a 76-year-old Frenchman who once helped defend such unpopular figures as Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie and terrorist Carlos the Jackal, has called the trial a "legal comedy" staged to justify NATO's military action in Serbia.
He said NATO's bombing of Serbia during the Kosovo conflict was the alliance's first offensive action against a sovereign nation in its history. "NATO hasn't intervened over the Northern Ireland conflict, or the Basque conflict with Spain," he told Reuters.
Milosevic's legal advisers said they are also preparing a lawsuit at the European Court of Human Rights contesting the legality of the U.N. tribunal.
They say the tribunal had violated Milosevic's human rights by transferring him from Belgrade to The Hague, and by refusing to grant him private meetings with lawyers.
The Case Against Milosevic
Milosevic is charged with crimes against humanity arising from the wars in Kosovo in 1999 and Croatia in 1991. He is also accused of genocide from the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina from 1992-5.
U.N. chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte has said she expects the trial to last about two years. Milosevic could face life in prison if convicted.
Experts say it will not be difficult to show that Serb forces exterminated civilian populations in Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia — but the challenge will be to show a clear link to Milosevic himself.
It will not be enough just to say he was president of Serbia, and later Yugoslavia, and was therefore ultimately responsible. Much of the prosecution's case will depend on documentary evidence showing Milosevic's knowledge of the atrocities.
But in an interview with Italy's La Repubblica newspaper, del Ponte said Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica had denied her access to military records.
Still, she said she was confident of a conviction: "Milosevic can rest assured that there is irrefutable evidence against him proving his responsibility for genocide."
More than 1 million people were killed, and thousands were maimed and wounded in the three conflicts that comprise Milosevic's indictment.
The Kosovo indictment, issued in 1999, accuses him of responsibility, along with four other senior Serbs, for the murders of 900 Kosovo Albanians and expulsion of 800,000 civilians from their homes.
The Croatia indictment, which came in 2000, accuses him of responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of Croats and other non-Serbs between 1991-92 and the deportation of 170,000.
The Bosnia indictment accuses him of responsibility for the Srebrenica massacre of several thousand Bosnian Muslim men and boys, the siege of Sarajevo and the deportation or imprisonment of more than a quarter of a million people.