Global Policy Forum

War Victims Condemn Further Delays to Karadzic Trial



By Denis Dzidic

February 25, 2010

While some believe the former Bosnian Serb leader deserves extra time to prepare his defence - owing to the case's complexity - others believe he is 'playing games' with the tribunal.

Twenty months after the arrest of Radovan Karadzic it is still uncertain when evidentiary proceedings will begin and legal experts differ over whether he should be granted additional time to prepare his defence.

According to the Hague Tribunal, Karadzic is due to make his opening statement on March 1 and 2 - but he has asked for the first witness hearings to be postponed by another three-and-a-half months.

While a Tribunal decision on a possible delay is pending, some international and local experts say the former Bosnian Serb leader should be granted more time to prepare his defence because of the exceptional complexity of the case and the amount of evidence.

Others insist it is high time the trial started, while victims of the Bosnian Serbs in the war fear that more delays could mean they never get justice.

Serbian police arrested the former president of the Republika Srpska in Belgrade in July 2008, after 13 years on the run. The International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, ICTY, charges him with genocide, crimes against humanity and violation of the laws or customs of war in the period of 1992-1995.

His trial before the ICTY began on October 27, 2009, but the indictee did not attend the hearings, maintaining he needed an additional ten months to prepare.

The trial was postponed to the beginning of March 2010 and in the meantime the Tribunal Council appointed a British lawyer, Richard Harvey, as Karadzic's standby defender, to represent him if he continues to interfere with the trial.

At the beginning of February 2010, Karadzic demanded that the trial be postponed again, citing "the improper appointment" of Harvey as his defence lawyer and "insufficient reimbursement for the defence team".

He said he would not take part in the trial if the appeal was denied. The court refused to dismiss Harvey but the President of the Tribunal granted Karadzic's defence team additional funds to prepare.

Gert Jan Alexander Knoops, professor of international criminal law at the University of Utrecht, has some sympathy with Karadzic's complaints. The Tribunal has given Karadzic too little time, he said.

"The time limited to March 1 is very short to prepare his defence, especially considering the Office of the Prosecutor handed in a new amended indictment in February 2009," he said.

"It needs to be emphasized that the investigation against Karadzic began in 1995, which means there is a lot of evidence," added Knoops.

Zarije Seizovic, humanitarian law professor at the Political Sciences faculty in Sarajevo, has a similar opinion. From the legal aspect, delaying the trial was "justified and in accordance with the rules of the Hague Tribunal, given the gravity of the offence for which Karadzic is charged," he said.

"Some of the cases before the Tribunal run for tens of thousands of pages," he added. "I've attended some trials for which... there were 40 or 50 crates of documents. Imagine needing to read and prepare a quality defence [when] each of these papers is potential evidence", Seizovic added.

Speaking of the possibility of continuing the trial without Karadzic's presence, legal experts note that the Tribunal may approve of such an action "only in exceptional cases", such as when the defendant intentionally and continuously interferes with the process.

"In the case of Karadzic, we have not had the opportunity to see that type of behaviour and from the legal point of view it would not be proper for the Tribunal to decide to continue the trial in the absence of the accused," Knoops said.

However, representatives of the Institute for Research of War Crimes in Sarajevo say Karadzic has had more than enough time to prepare his defence.

Edina Residovic, a longtime defence attorney, says the Tribunal has so far always secured the rights of all defendants, "and defendants absolutely have not had unfair trials.

"When the defence team seeks more time for preparations, it must be taken into consideration whether they are using it for irrelevant things," she said.

Becir Macic, of the Institute for Research of War Crimes, Crimes against Humanity and International Humanitarian Law of the University of Sarajevo, believes two-and-a-half years was enough time for Karadzic and his team to prepare for the trial.

Macic explains that during the trial, Karadzic can still prepare specific documentation, as other Hague indictees have done.

"The Hague Tribunal must be resolute, because up to now Karadzic has made use of the hesitancy of the Tribunal and to some extent its lenience towards his actions.

"The public, and especially the victims, expect Karadzic's trial to provide many answers to questions related to the crimes and aggression committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina," Macic added.

Representatives of war victims' groups also believe that Karadzic has been given enough time and rights.

"He has rights to everything. But in 1995, our children did not have any rights to anything," Munira Subasic, head of the Association of Mothers of the Enclaves of Srebrenica and Zepa, said.

"This is playing games with the victims. The trial must begin on March 1, and if it doesn't, they should feel free to close the Tribunal and let him walk free," she added.

Dzenana Sokolovic, one of the first witnesses due to testify, says that victims of the war will "suffer great injustice" if the trial is delayed. "I don't understand why they should postpone the trial," she said.

Sokolovic, who lost her seven-year-old son, Nermin, to a sniper's bullet in 1994, will testify about the Bosnian Serb campaign of sniper shooting and shelling Sarajevo, for which Karadzic is charged.


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