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NO 131-132

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INFO   :::  Helsinki Charter - PAGE 2 > Helsinki Charter No. 131-132 > Text


Helsinki Charter No. 131-132

September - October 2009

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Trial of Radovan Karadzic

War Crimes Cannot Become Time-Barred but Political will Weakens

By Bojan Al Pinto-Brkic


Radovan Karadzic, war leader of Bosnian Serbs, will meet the New Year 2010 in the same place as the old year - in the detention unit of the International Criminal Court for Former Yugoslavia. What will only be new in his case is the forecast about somewhat stronger wind blowing from North Sea.

True, the trial for genocide in Srebrenica in 1995, siege of Sarajevo in 1992-95 and other war crimes committed during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina begun but the proceedings have been adjourned until next March. Shortly after the beginning of the trial the Prosecution has somewhat amended the indictment against him. Hence, defendant Karadzic refused to show up in the courtroom and the Trial Chamber decided to give him more time to prepare his defense. The complicated timetable of the ICTY prolonged that period to some five-six months, meaning at best that the Prosecution will be presenting the indictment and evidence 15 years after the crimes were committed. And these are the crimes many have labeled the most heinous after the World War II.

Karadzic was tracked down and arrested by Serbia's secret policy in July 2008. Several days later, he was extradited. He has been in detention in Sheveningen since. The first indictment against Karadzic was raised in 1995. It contents were available to all. Amendments to it made in the meantime mostly relate to newly discovered evidence. While the Trial Chamber was deliberating adjournment of the trial, yet another mass grave was detected in the village of Zajazle in Eastern Bosnia. Many believe the people massacred in Srebrenica were buried in it. The number of victims whose bodily remnants have been found and buried in the Potocari Memorial Center exceeds five thousand. According to estimates, some eight thousand people were shot within three to five days after the fall of Srebrenica, a safe area under the protection of a Netherlands battalion and UN banner. In the Netherlands - the country hosting the International Criminal Court for Former Yugoslavia and the special detention unit accommodating defendant Karadzic - Srebrenica is a synonym for trauma. And yet, 15 year later the wish to have Karadzic on trial seems to be smaller.

The International Criminal Court for Former Yugoslavia has already been operation below capacity. As of January 1, 2010 the so-called extended mandate for pending cases will be in force. The ICTY can start no new investigation or raise new indictments. Investigations and indictments against the high-ranking political and military officials shall be handed over to national war crimes courts. Contract with some experts have been revoked and due to budget cuts the Tribunal cannot engage outstanding experts in relevant areas any more.

Interestingly, it was defendant Karadzic who raised the issue of the Tribunal's financial stability. He has calculated that he owes some 70,000 Euros to his legal advisers - the small but chosen few - who had prepared his defense for a year but not finished their work in due time, for the scheduled beginning of the trial in October 2009. Since defendant Karadzic cannot afford his defense it is only logical that tax payers from US, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Japan, etc., should cover his expenses. Otherwise, defendant Karadzic will be deprived of the right to fair trial. To start with, defendant Karadzic had presented his financial situation to the Tribunal, claiming he could not afford his defense. Despite the fact that Biljana Plavsic's latest book tells about many lucrative hobbies of the leadership of Bosnian Serbs - and most profitable ones for Radovan Karadzic and Momcilo Krajisnik - the Tribunal did not turn down the defendant's claim. He was allocated an ex-officio lawyer whose fees will also be covered by tax payers from the countries financing the Tribunal's operation.

How come that Karadzic was in the position to deal with the Tribunal's finances remains unclear. He wasted almost a year on expounding that the Tribunal was not authorized to put him on trial on the grounds of some agreement his associates reached with Richard Holbrooke in 1996. Holbrooke was a special envoy of US President for the Balkans at the time. Today he is a special envoy of US President for Pakistan and Afghanistan. The then US president was Bill Clinton, spouse of the incumbent US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. Clinton has denied such an agreement on several occasions. Holbrooke himself said he had never made any agreement with Karadzic and had not been authorized for that. However, at the news that the trial opened without the defendant many in Belgrade started digging for prima facie evidence of Karadzic's exceptionality.

In the latest version of the indictment the Prosecution accuses Karadzic only of the most notorious crimes committed during the Bosnian war. Out of 41 municipalities included in two earlier versions of the indictment against Karadzic only some 20-odd remained. The latest version of the indictment focuses on the siege of Sarajevo, genocide in Srebrenica and expulsion of non-Serb population from Eastern Bosnia and Posavlje. To those who have clear forgotten the Bosnian war and its atrocities the present indictment sounds something like an executive summary. But we might be satisfied even with that bearing in mind new financial circumstances in which the ICTY now operates under the so-called supplementary mandate.

Defendant Karadzic seems to enjoy all the attention he is getting. As of January 1, 2010 the International Criminal Court for Former Yugoslavia will be there mostly for him. The proceedings against Vojislav Seselj and Ante Gotovina are nearing the end. Of course, there is always the possibility that Serbia's secret service tracks down and arrest Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic at some point. But until then - and that moment is quite uncertain as things stand now - Karadzic is going to be the only "star." Defendant Karadzic - who has always been more concerned with the publicity he gets than with sum and substance - diligently works on his new role. He sees himself as important - if not more - as judges, the ICTY President, the Prosecution and the main prosecutor, all amici curiae and attorneys, witnesses, security guards, buildings and the grounds, and even as important as the mandate given to the ICTY by the UN Security Council. There would be no luminous stage without him, Radovan. And the war in Bosnia broke out with Radovan on the stage. From a parliamentary rostrum he had threatened with genocide - which actually begun shortly after Serb representatives walked out and moved from Sarajevo to Pale. Throughout the war he was a main exponent of the policy of genocide and a threat to peace in the entire region. He was driving everyone mad, including Slobodan Milosevic. People still remember Belgrade's leadership's anthological remarks about the actions of their allies and rivals from Pale. Dobrica Cosic, then president of FR of Yugoslavia, could not resist explaining all the ways in which he was "helping the Serb people in Bosnia-Herzegovina." He and defendant Karadzic were speaking by phone for hours about the situation in the field. They didn't bother much about having a safe line - hence, hostile services got hold of transcripts of their conversations. Some excerpts from these transcripts will be used as evidence against Karadzic. Domestic public will not be much surprised by their contents - but may feel embarrassed since everybody only logically expected to see Dobrica Cosic's obituary for Patriarch Pavle. One the other hand he was also dealing with Radovan Karadzic, a person healing by esotericism. In this sense, the New Year 2010 will hardly be a year of optimism.


NO 131-132

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