THE HAGUE — With Bosnian mothers from Srebrenica shouting from the steps outside, the opening day of Radovan Karadzic’s much anticipated war crimes trial lasted just 25 minutes. The Bosnian Serb leader accused of genocide and war crimes did not appear, as he earlier warned, saying he needed more time to prepare. He was apprehended 15 months ago, on a Belgrade bus in July 2008, posing as a bearded new age healer named Dragan Dabic.
“In light of the absence of the accused … the chamber will adjourn … until 2:15 p.m. tomorrow,” said Chief Judge O-Gon Kown of South Korea. “We request Mr. Karadzic to attend so that his trial is not further obstructed.”
Options appear limited to giving Karadzic more time, or appointing a legal counsel that he says he doesn’t want, and that could prove disruptive in court. So far, no defendant in the 13-year-old Yugoslav tribunal has been forcibly seated.
The trial of Karadzic, accused of being the key architect and leader of four years of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, started at 9 a.m. in Courtroom 1 of the Yugoslav tribunal, with prosecutor Hildegard Uertz-Retzlaff arguing that the judges should appoint a lawyer, “an imposition of counsel,” in order to avoid obstructing the trial.
“There is no reason today not to start the trial,” she said, adding that it was folly for the chamber to adopt a position that “the trial can only start if the accused says it should,” and listing off numerous concessions that the prosecution has allowed, including only two or three days a week of court hearings prior to Christmas and sharing with Karadzic the prosecution’s witness list through next February. She notes that the first two months of initial “victim” witnesses will require little effort to prepare cross-examination.
Paul Williams of the Public International Law and Policy group in Washington says there has been a team of “stand by counsels” that have been working on the Karadzic defense for at least four or five months.
Not another ‘circus’ trial
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is under great pressure not to allow the Karadzic proceeding to devolve into the theatrics seen during the four-year trial of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic – who also insisted on defending himself, talked back to the judges, and was given great leniency and stoppages in order that the trial be considered fair.
Analysts say that Karadzic’s strategy, like Milosevic’s, may be to create such troubles and snafus that the main story of a tribunal set up to create a clear and impartial record of the 1991 war, and to bring justice to the victims – becomes instead focused on the antics and legal wrangling of the accused. Critics of the Milosevic trial say that it deteriorated into such game-playing that the grave charges and the content of the trial often seemed to be forgotten or take a secondary role.
News analyst and documentary producer Mirko Klarin, who has reported on the court since its opening, says it was a “mistake to give Milosevic and [Serb paramilitary and party leader Voslej] Sheslj such leniency, such appeasement. The result was so disruptive that at times the judges seemed to lose control of the trial.”
Karadzic, the former president of the Republika Srpska, was indicted in 1995 as the most powerful Bosnian Serb political figure responsible for a coordinated policy of “eliminating” non-Serb ethnic groups from large swaths of a richly integrated cities, towns, and villages in Bosnia. Karadzic supervised the territorial defense, was in charge of the administration of the army, gave orders to the as – yet – uncaught but indicted Serb Gen. Radko Mladic, activated the police, participated in international negotiations, and signed off on cease fires and humanitarian relief.
Srebrenica and beyond?
Karadzic is allegedly co-responsible for the execution of nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boysin the so-called UN “safe haven” of Srebrenica in July of 1995. The court this month issued a charge of genocide, stating, “On 8 March 1995, Karadzic instructed Bosnian Serb forces under his command to create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival for the inhabitants of Srebrenica, amongst other places.”
Yet Bosnia historian Marko Attila Hoare of Kingston College in London argues that one important outcome of the Karadzic trial will be to “show that genocide occurred outside Srebrenica, as well – that it was a planned policy. The militia groups operated up and down the [River] Drina and in many cities, and conducted a genocidal project for an ethnically pure state. it was not simply Srebrenica.”
Mr. Williams, co-author of “Indictment at the Hague,” a legal history of the early years of the ICTY, comments that, “During the Yugoslav conflict, Radovan Karadzic definitely manipulated the mediators. He is now trying to do the same with the tribunal. Let’s hope the tribunal is more savvy, and able to provide justice for the victims.”
Last week Karadzic, having been denied a stay by the judges, sent a letter made public by the court, asking “why and how is it possible that the prosecution is allowed to literally bury me under a million of pages, only to start disclosing relevant material many months after my arrest? … Why and how is it possible that the prosecution is allowed to file its final indictment against me on the eve of the planned trial date?”
Judge Kwon today signaled that he continued to disagree with Karadzic’s position, indicating the accused would be given audio tape and transcripts of the prosecution, and that the court is considering assigning him a lawyer – a signal the prosecution is likely to begin tomorrow, with or without the defendant.