x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Karadzic boycotts trial start

The Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, accused in the worst massacre since the Second World War, insists he needs more time to prepare his defence.

Radovan Karadzic, seen here at The Hague in March, is facing 11 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Radovan Karadzic, seen here at The Hague in March, is facing 11 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

For nearly 13 years, Radovan Karadzic was one of the world's most wanted fugitives. With the alleged aid of Russian agents and even Serbian Orthodox monks, the former Bosnian Serb leader managed to elude capture. When Mr Karadzic was finally arrested in Belgrade by Serb police last year, he was sporting a bushy beard, a ponytail and thick glasses, and masquerading as a New Age healer.

Yesterday, the jailed Mr Karadzic managed to elude prosecution - at least briefly - again. From his detention cell 3km from the courtroom, he refused to appear at the opening of his trial on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role, most notably, in the slaughter of nearly 8,000 men and boys in the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica, the biggest massacre in Europe since the Second World War. The hearing ended after just 15 minutes.

Before adjourning, Judge O-Gon Kwon scheduled another hearing for today and warned Mr Karadzic against further delay. "There are measures that can be taken should he continue to obstruct the progress of the trial," the judge said. Late yesterday, after a member of his legal team said Mr Karadzic would continue to boycott the trial, it appeared that the court and Mr Karadzic were on a collision course.

The failure of Mr Karadzic, or a legal representative, to appear for the start of his trial angered some survivors of the war, who had travelled 2,000km from the Balkans to see the 64-year-old former president of the Republika Srpska - the Serbian republic in Bosnia - finally face what they view as his long overdue day in court. Admira Fazlic, who was imprisoned in Bosnian Serb-run camps during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, shook her head as she left the courtroom, the Associated Press reported. "We are shocked," she said. "Radovan Karadzic is making the world and justice ridiculous. He is joking with everybody."

Mr Karadzic is insisting on representing himself in the UN-established court, known formally as the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Although he has already been in custody for 15 months, he has told the court that he needs eight more months to prepare his defence, citing one million new documents he needs to read. Yesterday, prosecutors urged Judge Kwon and the trial's two other judges to assign Mr Karadzic a lawyer and proceed quickly with the case. Mr Karadzic should not be allowed to "substantially and persistently obstruct the proper and expeditious conduct of trial", the prosecutor, Hildegard Uertz-Retzlaff, said.

Yesterday's developments were yet another surprising twist in the saga of Mr Karadzic, a man first indicted for war crimes 14 years go. Before becoming president of Republika Srpska, he dabbled in poetry, earned a medical degree and served as team psychologist for the Red Star Belgrade football club. After going into hiding, it has been reported, he would show up at the doors of well-known Belgrade soothsayers and clairvoyants to discuss his alternative medical cures.

Today, he is charged with 11 counts of war crimes, including two of genocide. In addition to the charges relating to the Srebrenica massacre, he is accused of participating in a "joint criminal enterprise" to spread terror among the civilian population of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, between April 1992 and November 1995, and the use of 284 UN peacekeepers as human shields in 1995 to dissuade the North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces from conducting air strikes.

The tribunal, which has been in operation for 16 years and had a budget last year of US$342 million (Dh1.3 billion), is under pressure to complete a trial in a high-profile case. Although the tribunal has indicted a total of 161 people and completed trials of 120, it has failed to successfully prosecute top officials. The former Serbian political leader and Mr Karadzic's mentor, Slobodan Milosevic, died of a heart attack in 2006, leaving his trial unfinished after four years. Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military leader with whom Mr Karadzic is alleged to have carried out his brutal war against Bosnia's Muslims, is still in hiding.

Mr Karadzic has given every indication of planning to parrot the legal strategy of Milosevic, calling the tribunal a "political body that has been created to blame the Serbs". Milosevic's first sentence in his 2002 trial for genocide and war crimes was, "I don't recognise this court; this court is a false court, and the indictments are false indictments." Thereafter, Milosevic largely ignored the judges and addressed his audience in Bosnia and Serbia instead. He appeared primarily interested in delivering political speeches challenging the legitimacy of the tribunal and declaring that he and his country were victims of a conspiracy.

Mr Karadzic also is expected to persist in his demand that the UN Security Council exempt him from trial. In a letter to the Council this month, he insisted again that in a 1996 deal with Richard Holbrooke, a US envoy, he agreed to leave politics in exchange for immunity from prosecution by the Netherlands-based court. Mr Holbrooke has denied such a deal. The most contentious and harrowing prong of his defence, however, is expected to be his assertion that many of the bodies of the nearly 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys exhumed from mass graves in Srebrenica were brought from elsewhere, or had died in fighting years earlier.

"We are convinced that there is a manifold exaggeration here," Mr Karadzic said at a pretrial hearing in July. Many of those listed as dead at Srebrenica had in fact died elsewhere during the Bosnian war, or now are living outside the country, he said, demanding that the DNA data of all the bodies dug up there be turned over to his defence team to verify the "methodology" used. That tack is likely to enrage Mr Karadzic's victims and others who have followed the tribunal's often excruciatingly painful testimony about the Srebrenica massacre and other atrocities.

In April 2000, court testimony singled out by the chief war crimes prosecutor at the time, Carla Del Ponte, for its courage, a young man identified only as "Witness O" recalled how he surrendered to Bosnian Serb soldiers and was ordered to strip off his clothes and stand at the edge of a killing field: "There were several Serb soldiers there - standing behind our backs - I thought that I would die very fast, that I would not suffer. And I just thought that my mother would never know where I had ended up."

However, the young man, then 17, survived by falling among a pile of dead bodies. The Bosnian Serb general against whom he later testified was later found guilty of aiding and abetting genocide. cnelson@thenational.ae