Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav president who was currently being tried for war crimes, has been found dead in his prison cell. The 64 year old was being held at a detention center outside The Hague, and initial reports suggest that he died of natural causes. He had a history of illnesses and heart problems leading up to his death on Saturday. The International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia has issued a statement saying that a full investigation is underway.
Slobodan Milosevic had been in custody since his extradition from former Yugoslavia in 2001. He faced several charges of genocide and war crimes for his role in the Balkan conflict during the 1990’s. His trial has been a bumpy ride, with legal and political turmoil. He refused to acknowledge the authority of the tribunal in The Hague, and chose to conduct his own defense. The former president’s ill health had slowed the legal process down considerably, especially since 2004. Statisticians said the actual trial proceedings had lasted barely one year in terms of court time, since 2001.
Reactions to his death seem to be focused on a sense of injustice. Ben Bot, the Dutch foreign minister, interviewed by Dutch media at an EU meeting in Salzburg, Austria, said: “It is sad for his victims … and for the fact that the process cannot be completed. It would have been better, also from the perspective of history, if the law had run its course.”
A few reactions have come in the form of criticism for the tribunal process. Milica Pesic, a former Serbian television news presenter, told CNN: “People here are asking if they took his health problems seriously enough.”
Milosevic had recently requested the tribunal to allow him to go to Moscow for medical treatment. Lord Ashdown, the British politician and former High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina who gave evidence against Milosevic, said he suspected that was a “politically motivated” move.
Lord Ashdown described Milosevic as “charismatic and intelligent” but said, “He had an amazing capacity to tell a lie with a straight face.”
Milosevic was born August 20, 1941. He served as President of Serbia from 1989 to 1997 and then President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from 1997 to 2000. He was one of the key figures in the Yugoslav wars and became the first sitting head of state to be indicted for alleged war crimes. He is survived by his wife Mirjana, his son Marko, and his daughter Marija.