Karadzic trial suspended again

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

The trial of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has again been suspended, pending a defence team appeal asking for more time to prepare their case.

Karadzic had threatened to boycott Wednesday’s session, saying he wasn’t ready to cross-examine the first two prosecution witnesses expected to be called tomorrow. But at the end of today’s hearing, presiding judge O-Gon Kwon ruled that, in the interest of a fair trial, the court would wait for an appeals chamber ruling before continuing with the case.

Karadzic is on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, where he’s facing 11 charges - including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes – relating to the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.

One of the two genocide charges relate to the massacre of close to 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian city of Srebrenica. But Karadzic told the war crimes tribunal today that Serbian forces entered the enclave in an effort to restore peace. He also rejected claims that his forces took United Nations peacekeepers hostage near the town, arguing that, by definition, combatants are taken prisoner and cannot be held hostage.

Karadzic gave his version of the events of July 1995 during the second day of his opening statement before the ICTY. He also addressed the 44-month long siege of Sarajevo on Tuesday. But he told the tribunal that Sarajevo was "not a city under siege, it was a city divided." On the night of April 5, 1992, considered the eve of the outbreak of war, Karadzic said: "terror broke loose in Sarajevo." The Serbs, he said, withdrew to their own districts where they tried to defend their families. "That is how the line dividing the town was established. It wasn't a line of siege, it was a line separating and dividing two parts of the town."

Four months later than scheduled, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic opened his case before the tribunal yesterday. But the trial has now been put on hold once more, as the court waits for a ruling from the appeals chamber regarding Karadzic’s request for more time to prepare.

The 64-year-old former psychiatrist first boycotted the opening of the trial in October, saying he needed more time to study the 1.2 million pages of prosecution documents and hundreds of witness statements. The court rejected his appeal for more time and responded by appointing British barrister Richard Harvey to “represent the interests of Radovan Karadzic” before the tribunal, “…should the Accused continue to absent himself.”

The trial was then postponed by three and a half months to allow Harvey time to get up to speed on the case. On Monday, Karadzic finally began his defence, responding to ICTY prosecutor Alan Tieger’s opening statement from October 26th of last year.

Karadzic "not prepared"
Karadzic’s opening statement continued today, but the prosecution was scheduled to call their first witness on Wednesday and Karadzic warned the court that he would not appear. He filed an appeal on Friday asking for a delay, once again citing the need for more time. The court hasn’t allocated enough money to pay for a fully staffed defence team since the official trial period began in October, Karadzic said in his appeal.

“He’s not prepared to cross-examine the first witness at all because he spent the last four months without a defence, essentially,” said Karadzic’s legal advisor Peter Robinson.
On Friday, ICTY president, Judge Patrick Robinson, granted Karadzic’s request to increase the number of paid hours for defence team staff and to increase the hourly wage of his legal advisor. But in the meantime, Karadzic is arguing, the defence has lost valuable time. Since October, he says, his team has received an additional 400,000 pages of documents from the prosecution.

The court rejected Karadzic’s request for a further four-month delay but on Friday he filed an appeal and today Judge Kwon agreed to stay his earlier ruling until the appeals chamber reached a decision

Today’s ruling is a small victory for the defence since the court could have continued proceedings in Karadzic’s absence and asked Richard Harvey to step in to cross-examine prosecution witnesses. However, it would have led to a strange situation for all involved since, as Peter Robinson says, “[Karadzic] doesn’t have any relation whatsoever or any contact with Mr Harvey… If they force him to sit there while the witnesses testify, it’s going to be a difficult situation. As far as Dr Karadzic is concerned, he doesn’t need or want any assistance from Richard Harvey.”

"Crime on a crime"
Bosnian women whose husbands and sons were killed by Serb forces in Srebrenica are attending the trial, eager to hear what Karadzic had to say. But by the end of the first day they had already heard enough.

“I can’t believe he’s saying this,” one of them said after the hearing. “I experienced Srebrenica and the war in Bosnia. [What he’s saying] is a crime on a crime. We hope he gets a life sentence because we all have a life sentence after what happened to us.”