Serb leader is tried by an international tribunal

This is an entry in the cover feature 10 trials that changed the world.

In 1992, armed conflict broke out in Europe for the first time since the end of World War II. The vicious nature of the war in the former Yugoslavia, stoked by an explosive mix of religious, ethnic and historical antagonisms that played out in a series of atrocities committed by various participants, shocked the world. The U.N. Security Council created the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in 1993 to try individuals for war crimes and other violations of international human rights law amid the conflict. The court’s “star” defendant was Slobodan Milosevic, the president of Serbia throughout the 1990s until he was ousted in 2000.

Slobodan Milosevic was never convicted. His trial—which had begun in 2002 at the ICTY’s headquarters—was drawing to a close in March 2006 when he died in his cell, apparently of natural causes.

But it was the fact of the trial as much as its anticipated outcome that made it important. For the first time in modern history, a former head of state was being tried by a tribunal created by the world community. The charges against Milosevic included crimes against humanity, violating the customs of war, genocide and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.

The trial of Milosevic made it clear to other heads of state that they no longer were protected under international law to act with impunity. The ICTY, along with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, helped solidify international criminal laws and create templates for courts authorized to enforce those laws, including the International Criminal Court, which went into operation in 2002. The ICTY and ICTR also helped spur the creation of hybrid courts, such as the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which convicted former Liberian President Charles Taylor in 2012 for violations of international criminal law, and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia.

One of the lessons of the ICTY was the need for professional conduct rules covering lawyers who appeared before it, says Nigel Hampton, a queens counsel in New Zealand. In 2005, the ICC amended its rules of practice and procedure to adopt a Code of Conduct for Counsel, establish a Disciplinary Board and a Disciplinary Appeals Board, and create the post of commissioner of standards and discipline of counsel. Hampton served as the first commissioner.

Randy J. Aliment is a member of Williams Kastner in Seattle, where he represents clients around the world in commercial matters. He is a past chair of the ABA’s Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section.

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