The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) trial of Slobodan Milosevic, former president of Yugoslavia opened Feb. 12 in The Hague, Netherlands.

In his opening statement Milosevic charged the leaders of the NATO powers with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity – the same crimes for which he has been indicted by the ICTY. Speaking before the tribunal after seven months of incarceration, Milosevic presented detailed evidence and showed graphic video footage backing up his defense.

Milosevic again challenged the legality of the ICTY and demanded that his charges be answered. The tribunal was created in 1993 by the United Nations Security Council, which Milosevic asserts has no power to do so under the U.N. Charter. He had requested they seek the advice of the International Court of Justice on this matter but that they had failed to do so.

Evidence presented by prosecutor Geoffrey Nice before Milosevic spoke has been exposed as based on fabrications. For example Nice repeated the accusation that Milosevic’s speech on June 28, 1989 at Kosovo Field called for ethnic hatred. A reading of the speech reveals just the opposite – an appeal for ethnic harmony.

Milosevic criticized Nice for referring to his political party as the “Serbian Socialist Party,” which would limit it to just Serbian people. “We are the Socialist Party of Serbia,” he said. “We have in our ranks Muslims, Albanians, Roma, Goran, all of the 27 nationalities who make up Serbia. Would they join a racist organization?”

Tens of thousands demonstrated in support of Milosevic in Belgrade on Feb. 9. The signatures of 120,000 Yugoslav citizens demanding Milosevic’s freedom were presented to the tribunal. The Russian Duma voted 316 to 6 demanding his release and accused the tribunal of ignoring crimes by NATO and Albanian extremists in Kosovo. The Ukrainian Rada (parliament) also demanded his release.

“Over the past two days all the prosecutors [said] they are just trying an individual … and not a nation,” Milosevic said. “But in all the indictments, they are accusing the whole nation … Everybody who lent support – the government, the parliament, the various political organizations, the media – they all stand accused here.”

Milosevic demanded that the court bring as witnesses former leaders of the U.S. and other NATO nations, as well as United Nations General Secretary Kofi Annan, and the entire U.S. negotiating team at the 1995 Bosnian peace talks in Dayton, Ohio.

Milosevic spoke of his role as a peacebroker in Balkan conflicts, particularly at the Dayton negotiations in 1995, that ended the war in Bosnia. “I was engaged in peace there, not war,” he said.

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