UN Official Breaks Consensus on Milosevic Prosecution

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

London (CNSNews.com) - The United States and Britain made it clear Wednesday there would be "no deal" guaranteeing freedom from prosecution to Yugoslav leader and war crimes suspect Slobodan Milosevic, who has refused to resign despite defeat in his country's first democratic general election last month.

Earlier in the day, it appeared differences had emerged between Washington and London on one hand and the United Nations on the other.

The BBC quoted the U.N.'s human rights envoy to the former Yugoslavia, Jiri Dienstbier, as saying Milosevic should be offered immunity from prosecution if that would ensure he cedes power.

Milosevic has been indicted for war crimes arising from his policies against the ethnic Albanian community in Kosovo, policies that prompted last year's NATO war against Belgrade.

Dienstbier, a former Czech foreign minister, told reporters in Prague that punishing Milosevic should not take precedence over "the future of 10 million Serbs and probably the whole Balkans."

"The only possible deal, and the most important thing for Mr. Milosevic, is to have guarantees that if he leaves power, he will not be prosecuted and will not spend the rest of his life somewhere in prison," he added.

But an official at the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights stressed that the commission's policy had not changed, and that the "struggle against immunity" remained an issue of primary importance to the High Commissioner, Mary Robinson.

Speaking by telephone from Geneva, Luca Lupoli explained that Dienstbier was a special rapporteur, appointed by the Human Rights Commission, the 53-nation body that meets each year in Geneva to discuss human rights issues.

As such, Dienstbier was "free and independent to say what he wants," but he did not speak on behalf of the UNCHR, whose position on Milosevic has not changed.

A State Department official in Washington, who wished not to be identified, reiterated that the U.S. view also remained the same.

"Our policy is not changing - no deals. Milosevic still belongs in The Hague," he said by telephone. "We're not prepared to entertain any discussions of a deal whereby he'd be granted any kind of immunity or asylum. We're not prepared to even discuss that," the State Department official said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has sought to mediate between Milosevic and the man who beat him in the election, Vojislav Kostunica, and he invited both men to Moscow, prompting speculation that Russia may be trying to negotiate a deal.

The Clinton administration official said the state department was "not aware of any proposals by the Russians" regarding a possible immunity deal. "We feel the true results of the election should be respected."

On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said Washington expected Russia to extradite Milosevic to The Hague if he arrived in Moscow.

"There's an indictment that calls for any country to hand him over to The Hague," Reeker said. "That's very clear, including Russia ... We expect the indictment to be followed."

A spokesman for the Foreign Office in London said Wednesday Britain's position on Milosevic's future was unchanged.

"Without a shadow of a doubt - we're not in the business of doing deals with Milosevic," said Paul Fox. "He's been indicted. He's got to go to The Hague."

Fox pointed out that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was a U.N.-mandated body. "For a U.N. rapporteur on human rights to go against an ICTY indictment strikes me as very odd, but you'll have to speak to the U.N. [about that]."

Dienstbier could not be reached for further comment.

During a press briefing in The Hague, an ICTY official responded strongly to Dienstbier's reported statements.

Jim Landale, a spokesman for the ICTY judges panel, called the comments "extremely disturbing" and said they were contrary to the mandate handed the tribunal by the U.N. Security Council.

Paul Risley, spokesman for chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, said she had made it clear there was no intention of changing the indictment against Milosevic and four of his cabinet members.

Risley said Del Ponte would urge Russia to arrest the Yugoslav leader if he showed up in Moscow and do the same if he fled to any other country.

In Yugoslavia, Wednesday saw further mass protests and strikes by protestors hoping to force Milosevic to concede defeat and resign.

Kostunica's supporters have claimed victory, but the state-run electoral commission maintains that he did not get the more than 50 per cent required to avoid a second round run-off this weekend.

Kostunica is demanding that Milosevic stand down, but he told a the Kommersant newspaper that he would not extradite him to face trial in a "political" tribunal in The Hague.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow