By Judith Armatta
Editors' note: Since early this year, OSB member Judith Armatta has been sharing with friends and associates by e-mail episodes from her current adventure, monitoring law and justice and the trial of Slobodan Milosevic at The Hague, Netherlands. Her observations and exploits are interesting, and we hope Bulletin readers will enjoy reading about them as well. They have been edited for length and clarity.
FEB. 26, 2002, ARRIVAL IN DEN HAAG
Everything has happened so fast. You may not even know I've left the U.S. and taken up residence in Den Haag (The Hague). I took a position with the Coalition for International Justice as their liaison to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. They were anxious to get me here for the beginning of the Milosevic trial, which started two days after my arrival. The majority of my job for the moment is to monitor the trial and report on it through CIJ's website, found at www.cij.org.
It's not so easy listening to Milosevic all day or to the witnesses against him. Reporters that mill around seem to think Milosevic is doing a good job acting as his own counsel, that the prosecution isn't doing so well, and that the witnesses have been awful. As my colleague says, it's not a win/lose thing. The legal system is supposed to try to do justice, which means convicting someone if there's sufficient evidence to prove his guilt and acquitting him if there isn't. That said, there are weaknesses in the prosecution team which I hope will improve as the tension of the first weeks eases. The court also dealt a blow to the prosecution right off by refusing to hear an investigator's summary of 1,300 witness statements. That's all in one of my reports online, so I won't say more.
I am staying at a little B&B about six blocks from the tribunal and right on the tram line. It's quite charming; I'm even enjoying watching BBC World. I will move into my predecessor's 'hofja,' which has been in the CIJ family since inception of the program. Hofjas are rows of tiny two-story, two-room houses with adjoining walls. Ours has small garden areas in front and a communal pump at the end of the path. They were originally alms houses for the poor. CIJ's is quite charming, though lacking light and oddly laid out - with a toilet in the narrow entry hall, next to the tiny 'kitchen,' which is really just a stove and sink on the way from the toilet to the living room.
Mary, my predecessor who is leaving next weekend, has been dragging me in the wake of her whirl of social activity. She must know just about everyone at the tribunal and a good number outside of it. Mary has also made our tiny office in the Tribunal's lobby into a kind of 'petite central station.' Everyone stops by throughout the day for a few words, food (Mary has stashes of candy, cookies, beer, wine and toast with a toaster), and to smoke! She has assured everyone that I will have no objections to the smoke(!) and will take over her social director duties (say, what?). There are going to be a lot of disappointed people around.
So far, I like living in Holland. I love the little houses and flats, the tram, the flower markets and small shops selling cheese, books, chocolates, pastries, fish, wine and, yes, fruit brandy! The sea is near enough to walk to, and the boardwalk is full of people strolling up and down in all kinds of weather. I'm looking forward to having more time to explore Den Haag and other cities and towns in The Netherlands.
MARCH 11, 2002
I'm typing this in front of two large French glass windows which look out onto a small woods. Birds occasionally try to get in and present themselves. In the front yard, the little walk is lined with bright bits of spring flowers. This is the parallel universe which makes it possible for me to continue going into that other one where the daily fare is stories and occasional photos of atrocities.
I have watched nearly every minute of the Milosevic trial since it started. We begin the fifth week on Monday. I have to take it one day at a time, because thinking that this will go on for at least two years makes me want to run from the courtroom screaming. Of course, I have only signed up for one year, but even so.
Though reporters are praising Milosevic's legal skills, I can't agree. He is theatrical and great for sound bites. And he is taking the ultimate advantage of being his own lawyer, his position being that he does not recognize the Tribunal, and having little to lose by pushing the court's limits to the max. He is sarcastic and abusive to witnesses. He twists their words and says they said things they clearly did not. He continually makes comments and argument and uses his cross-examination to present unsworn, unsubstantiated evidence. Since the trial is before three judges and not a jury, they allow him more leeway, as they consider that judges cannot be fooled in the way a jury might be - judges know what is relevant and what isn't, how to weigh evidence, and so on. Because of this, the prosecution has only intervened (not objected) once or twice during cross-examination. The chief trial judge, Judge May from the U.K., is responsible for seeing that the trial is conducted in a fair and expeditious manner. He is increasingly intervening to keep Milosevic and the witnesses on task. Often he rephrases questions for Milosevic or stops him from endless repetition. It's an incredibly difficult job. I hope he holds up under the strain.
This last week, the strain was showing on everyone. On the second day of testimony by Qamal Kadriu, former head of his local branch of the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms in Kosovo, tension in the courtroom and gallery was palpable. Even the guards were being exceedingly strict and unsmiling (When the judge entered, I was absorbed in reviewing the testimony and didn't hear the 'all rise.' One charming fellow raced all the way across the gallery to admonish me, pointing to my staff badge to show that I should know better). Because of time pressure, the prosecutor was keeping Kadriu on a tight leash, allowing him to only respond 'yes' or 'no' as the prosecutor read out his evidence. One could sense Kadriu's frustration. Not only had he recorded countless incidents of killing, massacres and destruction of villages - and witnessed the results of much of it - he had also been through it himself: arrested and beaten for being a human rights activist and a teacher, forced to flee his home, imprisoned, beaten, humiliated and starved before being sent to Albania. But whenever he started to vary from the yes or no answer required of him, either the prosecutor would respectfully stop him, or Judge May would irritably admonish him. (This was not Judge May's best day).
It's so difficult for survivors to come to the court, for many reasons: fear, risk, intimidation, physical and emotional disabilities. Yet for some it can be a piece of their healing, however incomplete. In my work with victims and survivors over three decades, I've seen how important it is for people to tell their stories - to have others respectfully listen to them, to have the larger community give credence to what happened to them and the seriousness of it. That is not, of course, the purpose of a trial, though sometimes it can be a side effect. Kadriu desperately wanted to tell his story, but the necessities of the trial structure would not allow it - until, oddly enough, Milosevic began his cross-examination.
In trying to present his case through questioning, Milosevic gave Kadriu his opening. At one point, Milosevic tried to characterize the massacre of a family of 12 as the result of a clash between the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) and Serbian forces, either collateral damage or intentionally murdered by the KLA. Kadriu would not be bullied. 'The Ahmeti family never fought with the police or army. They were in their own home. The house was surrounded. The men were taken out and executed. With the women, they undertook the most appalling . . . I won't talk about it. Milosevic knows. The horror took place. It was documented by other NGOs (non-governmental organizations) as well. Ask them.'
In the end, Kadriu was one of the strongest witnesses. He seemed to relish (if that word can be used) the opportunity to confront Milosevic face to face with what he had done over 10 years. Despite the court's efforts to limit his testimony, he had his say. At the end of the above colloquy, for example, when Milosevic accused the KLA of murdering the Ahmeti family, implying that Human Rights Watch had verified that (a lie), Kadriu answered, 'This is a mockery of the victims and he should be ashamed of himself.' Perhaps not a legally permissible response, but certainly morally defensible.
By the way, the Human Rights Watch report said that the investigative judge, a woman from Montenegro, cried when she saw the dead bodies of the six children under 14 years of age, shot in their beds. She protested to the police officer, 'These are only children!' and he answered, 'This is war, comrade.' One wonders where Milosevic got his version of the report, since he was reading in English.
After the second day of Kadriu's testimony, photos and videotapes of massacred civilians and columns of refugees, I went into my office and closed the always-open door. Though not new to me, the photos and story and the obvious anguish of this man got through that professional facade. Now I know what powder and lipstick are for, as they allowed me to return to the courtroom after the 10-minute break without looking too blotchy. I'm not sure how others do it.
So I am grateful for the beauty, for the little grey bird with his bright yellow vest who sings the sun awake each morning. As long as he keeps singing and I keep noticing, I can do this work.
MARCH 20, 2002
I am enjoying a respite from the Milosevic trial as he came down with the flu on Monday morning. It is amazing how relaxed and happy I feel. I didn't realize how much it was affecting me. Hopefully, these few days (maybe a week!) will refresh me for the next period.
With Milosevic shut down, the tribunal is quiet this week. Not so many reporters, though National Public Radio correspondent Sylvia Poggioli breezed through and interviewed me. She does not look as flamboyant as her name. I enjoyed talking with her - the sign of a good reporter.
One of my reliable sources says that Milosevic is still pulling the strings. He certainly has access to inside information, as his cross-examination demonstrates. He knows the details of witnesses' lives - about the cousin convicted of sexual abuse in Turkey; the 20-year-old mistake that caused a train wreck and cost the signalman his job; a witness' father who smuggled cigarettes. Sometimes his information is wrong, like the time he asked a witness if he knew the head of a theater who had been killed, and the witness replied, 'I'm the head of the theater, and I'm very much alive.'
Last week we were treated to a British diplomat who looked Milosevic in the eye in court and said, 'In September 1998, I told you what was going on, that villages and homes were being looted and burned in a systematic campaign of terror designed to drive the civilian population out of Kosovo. I advised you it violated international law, and I said that you were on notice; if you didn't stop it, you would end up before this court . . . and here you are.' It was also heartening to hear him repeat, as if it were a mantra, 'That may be, but it doesn't justify your actions,' in response to Milosevic's laundry list of others who committed war crimes - NATO, KLA, every other country in the world, etc. Some days just make you feel good.
* * *
I have been disheartened to hear that some of the Kosovar Albanian witnesses are being treated badly by their fellow citizens on their return from testifying. They have reportedly been shunned for not standing up to Milosevic better, for not 'winning,' etc. It may come from the unfamiliar court procedure, which requires witnesses to keep their testimony within narrow parameters, often being reduced to answering questions 'yes' or 'no.' They don't always get to stand up and say, 'J'accuse,' though some have essentially done so. I have tremendous respect and admiration for these witnesses. I think they're all incredibly brave. They have each traveled far from their homes - often this is their first trip out of Kosovo except when they were refugees in Albania or Macedonia. For many this is also their first appearance in a court of any kind, let alone an international court constituted by the United Nations. They have to tell their story in an artificial manner in front of cameras and a full courtroom, stories that make them relive horrible events which changed their lives forever. And finally, they have to answer questions put to them by the very man responsible for their suffering, the tyrant who ran their country for 10 years. These witnesses all deserve some kind of purple heart - maybe a golden heart. (Whenever I get the chance, I preach about that to any reporter who will listen.)
The other concern is the reception of the trial in Serbia. It was being aired on television, but the Serbian prime minister ordered it off, because it was making Milosevic some kind of hero. It didn't help that almost all the first survivor witnesses denied any knowledge of the Kosovo Liberation Army, something everyone had trouble believing. It reinforced the propaganda that people have absorbed for years: 'Albanians are liars,' etc. That and some perceived errors in the prosecutor's opening statement reinforced what is widely believed in Serbia, that the ICTY is biased against the Serbs. And, as a friend pointed out, it doesn't help that the presiding judge and the lead prosecutor are both British, since Great Britain was one of the most pro-intervention members of the NATO alliance.
Thus far it seems the Milosevic trial is having a counter-productive effect back home in Serbia. Perhaps these kinds of trials never do change minds for those immediately involved. That is left for other processes and future generations. But they are important for the victims and for institutionalizing rule of law in the hope that someday humanity will settle all disputes with gavels instead of guns.
I realize as I write this that this is dangerous territory. Little in this realm can be reduced to a few paragraphs. Justice is selective and it is affected by politics, but that only makes it imperfect, not unjust or irrelevant. What we must do is continue working for its improvement, its universality and equal application, so that the most powerful are also subject to it. I sure wish I knew how to do that. I only know it's critical.
APRIL 9, 2002: ADVENTURES EN FRANCE
I decided to plunge into the European travel scene this weekend. I bought e-tickets and arranged for a hotel in Strasbourg, France for three nights. Don't know why I chose Strasbourg. I've been interested in it as the seat of the European Court of Human Rights, but that wasn't in session over the weekend. The guidebooks said little except 'charming' and 'a walking city' and '2000 years old' and 'a feast for the eyes and the palate.' Good enough. It's also a cultural mix, having been ruled by both France and Germany, and lies in the Alsace region in northeastern France.
My adventure began about as soon as I landed. I headed for an unoccupied person behind a desk and asked where I might get a bus into Strasbourg. I did this in French and was shocked when she understood me. The problem, of course, was that I didn't understand her reply (except that finding the bus seemed a bit complicated), so I thanked her and headed for the taxi stand. I showed the taxi driver the name and location of my hotel on my confirmation fax. He nodded, tossed my suitcase in the trunk and off we drove. After several kilometers I noticed there were no signs for Strasbourg and the geography seemed to be getting more rural. I watched the meter ticking its way past 20 euro, then 30, and I began putting together my second French sentence, 'Excuse me, but are we headed to Strasbourg?' When I finally managed it, he understood immediately and said, 'No!' and pulled off the road. He advised me we were headed toward Obernai, where my hotel was located. I said it was not. It was in Strasbourg. That's where I needed to go. I figured the hotel owner's return address was Obernai and that had confused him. I had no idea Obernai was even a town. I thought it might have been a district in Strasbourg - after all, Den Haag has quarters and sections, all duly named.
We turned around and sped toward Strasbourg. He was not sympathetic, even though he was going to earn a lot more money. He seemed disgusted. I ignored him, practicing my 'reserved' persona. When we got to Strasbourg, he stopped at the edge of the Centre, insisting there was no Place du Marche in the city, though my confirmation e-mail said clearly that the hotel was right on the Place du Marche. I paid him 70 euro (about $65) and collected my 'bagauge' (simulated French pronunciation). I tried calling the hotel from my cell phone with no luck. It's been my experience that cell phones, regardless of their advertised range, simply do not work when you need them most, such as when you've left home and crossed a border. I remembered reading that a tourist information office was located behind the cathedral, and since I saw a very tall spire, I wound my way through streets until I appeared in front of it and eventually located the 'I' (sign). Putting aside French language practice for the time being, I asked the disinterested young man at the desk if he knew where the hotel on my fax confirmation was located. Was it in Strasbourg? No, it's in Obernai! When asked (he did not volunteer information), he told me there were only two hotels in Strasbourg with available rooms. I tried calling one from the recalcitrant cell phone since the 'I'm-not-making-a-career-of-this' young man offered no more assistance. Eventually, I gave up, bought a map and headed in the direction of one of the hotels.
It was about eight blocks, just outside the old town center, down an alley. When I saw the hotel's name, The Franciscan Convent, I let go any hankering after charm. My standards had fallen to 'clean' and 'available.' It turned out to be both, albeit without a view. Safely in my room, I dialed up the hotel in Obernai to let them know what had happened and to cancel the reservation. Did I get sympathy? Understanding? Condescending humor? Non! The proprietress was furious, and despite my apologies and attempts to blame the Internet, she would have none of it. In the three days since I'd made the reservation, she had turned away about 1,000 people and now what was she to do? I apologized some more, but clearly that had no effect on the interaction. She pointed out that she had my Visa card number and she could charge me for all three nights. I didn't manage to get out 'the usual practice is to charge for one,' before she rang off with, 'I will do what I have to do.' Oh well. $65 taxi rides. Double room bookings. The cost of this weekender could have gotten me back to Oregon and then some. Being treated like a naughty child was something else. Fortunately it was only momentary. I was in France with a very appealing city to explore (I'd seen it without a positive emotional response thus far). So I put on my walking shoes and 'did' Strasbourg.
All in all, the holiday in France was mixed. Some good food, interesting architecture, lovely walks along the River Ill and the beginning of spring.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Judith Armatta is the Coalition for International Justice's (CIJ) liaison at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, Netherlands. CIJ is a non-profit, non-governmental organization, whose goal is to facilitate the historic work of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
© 2002 Judith Armatta