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Ethnic Crimes and Un Justice in Kosovo: The Trial of Igor Simic

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Ethnic Crimes and Un Justice in Kosovo: The Trial of Igor Simic

BIO: + J.D., University of Virginia; M.A., University of Virginia; B.A., Harvard University. Lecturer in Law and an Associate Director of the Institute for Administrative Justice, McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific. General Counsel, California Center for Public Dispute Resolution, a joint project of McGeorge School of Law and California State University, Sacramento. The following essay represents the observations, opinions, and research of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views or positions of any organization or other individual or the Texas International Law Journal.


... On March 24, 1999, U.S. planes began bombing Serbia and its province of Kosovo. ... He reported to a magistrate there that he had been called in by the Yugoslav military to collect and bury the bodies of the men killed and left sprawled on M. Popovic Street the day the women and children were taken away in buses. ... According to a court monitor's report, he stated that he was with his parents in their house near M. Popovic Street during the events surrounding the massacre, more or less lying low. ... The Serb spectators sat on the left side of the courtroom, the Kosovo Albanians on the right, immediately behind the international observers. ... The OSCE's semi-annual report on the criminal justice system in Kosovo, covering the period of Igor's trial, pointedly noted that the investigating judge in Igor's case (a man who was beaten by Serbs and whose house was burned by Serbs) failed to identify any credible evidence to support his conclusions that Igor committed genocide and other crimes. ... The entire Kosovo legal system stands in disarray. ... At a recent trial before one such tribunal, Zoran Stanojevic, a Serb, was convicted of participation in the massacre of forty-five Kosovo Albanians in the town of Ra<hac c>ak. ...

HIGHLIGHT: * * * *

I recently returned from Kosovo, where I worked with the American Bar Association during an extended leave from my law school. As part of my preparation to train Kosovo defense counsel, I immersed myself in trials for ethnic crimes. I observed several complete trials and segments of a number of other trials. All the defendants were Serbs charged with committing genocide, war crimes, or comparable crimes against Kosovo Albanians. I was fascinated by the frightful swirl of confusion and aggression in these cases, by the tension between justice, politics, and revenge. Although I saw only one full day of trial in the case of Igor Simic, it was this case that fascinated me most. The case is emblematic of the UN's struggle to establish a judicial system for Kosovo. On the day I attended, all the deficiencies of that system presented themselves in stunning array.


[*373] On March 24, 1999, U.S. planes began bombing Serbia and its province of Kosovo. According to court documents and the accounts of survivors, on April 14, 1999, approximately three weeks after this NATO air campaign began, Serb forces arrived in a mixed Serb-Albanian neighborhood of the city of Mitrovica. The neighborhood had previously been isolated by Serb checkpoints. The Serbs instructed the Kosovo Albanians to remain in their houses and apartments with their identity cards at the ready. If the cards were in order, the Serbs promised, nothing would happen. The Kosovo Albanians complied. Then Serb paramilitaries in ski masks, most carrying firearms, but some brandishing what the indictment in translation termed "cold weapons" (knives and axes), knocked on the Albanian doors of M. Popovic Street and ordered the men to remain inside and the women and children to come out. The Kosovo Albanians did as they were told. Once on the street, the women and children were shoved to one side. The men were then ordered out and instructed to lie on the ground.

The scene on the street degenerated into pandemonium. The Serbs, approximately one hundred, including regulars in the army, reservists, and paramilitaries (still in ski masks), milled about, apparently without an officer or leader clearly in charge. Women cried out for their husbands, fathers, and brothers; some of the Serbs barked orders and fired their automatic weapons into the air; children screamed hysterically. Eventually the women and children were herded onto buses, which would wander around western Kosovo before depositing their cargo at the Albanian border. Some of the women reported hearing gunfire coming from their neighborhood as they trudged to the buses.

[*374] Eight weeks later, Slobodan Milo<hac s>evic, President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, capitulated to NATO demands by ordering the army of the Federal Republic (now the de facto army of Greater Serbia) to evacuate Kosovo. The bombing

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