Home > Human Rights in the News > Karadzic genocide trial resumes in his absence

Karadzic genocide trial resumes in his absence

The familiar adage that justice delayed is justice denied will get a few more outings after the trial of Radovan Karadzic (case IT-95-5/18 ) predictably hit the buffers once more. Mr Karadzic is standing trial as the highest political and military authority in the ethnic splinter state of Republika Srpska in Bosnia Herzegovina during some of the Bosnian War. Prosecutors accuse him of either ordering, encouraging or failing to prevent crimes, including the July 1995 massacre at Srebrenica, when Bosnian Serb forces murdered about 8,000 unarmed Bosnian Muslim males, and the three-year shelling of Sarajevo, which killed more than 10,000. The trial started yesterday and was due to start with the opening prosecution statement, spread out over two days. Karadzic, was also to be given two days to make an opening statement. Yesterday, presiding Judge O-Gon Kwon adjourned proceedings after less than half an hour after Mr Karadzic’s refused to appear. KaradzicSince he is conducting his own defence, his absence left him with no representation in the courtroom, causing complications for trial judges. Karadzic claims he is not boycotting his trial, but is only seeking more time to prepare. His legal counsel in Belgrade said he would not attend today’s proceedings unless the lengthy delay was granted, and he would also reject any counsel imposed by the court.

The trial nevertheless resumed this morning in his absence. “The chamber is of the view that this hearing can proceed in his absence,” said judge O-Gon Kwon as the hearing reopened. He held that Karadzic had chosen not to exercise his right to be present and “must therefore accept the consequences.” At he time of writing, the prosecution is now set to start delivering its opening statement.

Unquestionably, Karadzic’s tactics have successfully slowed proceedings, begging the question of why this type of conduct is allowed to endure. One might have hoped after the precedent of the Milosevic trial where the defendant mostly represented himself and which ended without a verdict after four years when he died in custody would have encouraged the court to limit the possibility of self-representation in such cases. Alas, this has not been the case, and the likelihood is that this case will drag on for years as the courts sacrifice accountability to undue generosity to defendants who enjoy far greater guarantees than is the case in their own countries.

What is most exasperating about the delay is that the ICTY is already operating on the basis of a much-needed completion strategy, and has been doing so for years. Judges want to complete the trial by 2012, but three years is an unacceptably long time for any trial of such magnitude to take place. Already, is has been over fourteen months since Karadzic’s momentous first appearance before the courts, notwithstanding the fact that the final indictment running to a reasonable 69 pages, including appendices, has had fourteen years to be prepared. In a bid to expedite the process, prosecutors have abbreviated the scale of their case, and will call fewer witnesses and include alleged crimes in fewer locations. Nevertheless, all of this work can be undone by tolerating Karadzic to represent himself. After Milosevic, the law of the Tribunal should have been changed to preclude the possibility. While some may argue the defendant should have a right to choose, it is incontestable that he will receive better and more expert defence from trained and competent counsel, at the same time guaranteeing the expeditious operation of trial. The delays that have been tolerated in the Hague and, to a lesser extent, Arusha, would not be endured domestically. While the crimes being tried in cases like Karadzic are infinitely more complex than those that typically confront the criminal jurisdictions of domestic states, the ICTY has fifteen years of experience in securing prosecution for these crimes. By the time the Karadzic appeal is completed (there little doubt he will be convicted, which makes the delays al the more galling), the ICTY will probably have been in operation for 20 years, which is four times the duration of the combined Balkan conflicts that gave rise to the Tribunal.

Why does this matter? Interviews in the Guardian today bear eloquent witness to the dismay among victims at what they reasonably perceive as Western pettifogging. Dion van den Burg, a Dutch Christian charity worker who has been working with the Srebrenica widows for years, said: “People are very frustrated and angry. They have been waiting so long and they feel humiliated by Karadzic and by the fact that the international community is playing his game.” It is difficult not to feel sympathy with Munira Subasic, the head of the Mothers of Srebrenica group, who said: “It’s a sham. He’s joking with justice….. “We’ll stay another day, but where’s the guarantee he will show up? He should be forced to.”

PS: The Irish Times coverage by our fellow blogger outsidein is painfully dim : “big war crime trials bear a striking resemblance to what I can only imagine medieval public executions looked like.” If only the urgency displayed in these byegone days could be applied to the trial ….

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