BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

18 September 2014
Accessibility help
Recent Historybbc.co.uk/history

BBC Homepage

Contact Us

Milosevic on Trial: The Dilemmas of Political Justice

By Shane Brighton
Slobodan Milosevic arrives at the UN War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, 2000
Slobodan Milosevic arrives at the UN War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, 2000 ©

What chance has the Milosevic trial got of achieving political justice? Shane Brighton reviews the precedents of war crimes trials since Napoleon, and shows how the mechanisms of the courts reflect the changing nature of conflict.

Trying the vanquished

Trying vanquished leaders for war crimes is not a new idea. After Waterloo the Great Powers faced the problem of what to do with Napoleon. The Prussians, whom he had militarily humiliated, advocated his summary execution. Russia, instrumental in his first banishment, tended towards his removal again to somewhere he would be unable to rally support. Under the twin pressures of public desire to see Napoleon punished and the Duke of Wellington's wish to see an honorable fate for his old adversary, Liverpool, the British Prime Minister, suggested he face trial in France. It was the vulnerability of the newly re-appointed French monarchy in the face of latent Bonapartism that stymied the legal approach and saw Napoleon's final deportation to St Helena.

'...twelve were ordered to stand trial, three didn't show up, a further three had all charges dropped...'

The Great Powers again deliberated upon the fate of a defeated enemy after World War One. A war crimes provision indicting the Kaiser and naming nearly 5,000 Germans citizens as alleged war criminals was written into the Treaty of Versailles. The German government, terrified at the prospect of public disorder and a potential communist putsch sought a compromise. The allies accepted, reducing the list to 91 to be tried before Germany's Supreme Court at Leipzig. Of these, 12 were ordered to face trial, three didn't show up, a further three had all charges dropped and the remainder received minimal sentences. The Kaiser, who had fled to Holland, was saved from extradition by the Dutch authorities although his trial in Germany before allied judges or under British jurisdiction on the Channel Islands had been proposed.

Published: 2002-03-01

Articles

BBC Links

External Web Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites.



About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy