Alleged Genocidal War Criminal Snubs International Court

The dramatic case of a Bosnian Serb's trial for war crimes

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In a dramatic start to a highly-publicized case, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic boycotted the first day of his trial before the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague. The judge has adjourned the case until Tuesday, but Karadzic is demanding nine more months to prepare his defense against charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Karadzic has not disappeared, but simply refuses to appear in court. Should he persist in this boycott, he may be assigned legal representation, which he has so far refused. The standoff has raised the case's public profile, but the details are still unfamiliar to many. Below, analysts offer thoughts on the trial's messy start:

  • Court Hasn't Proved It Can Handle Intransigence Alluding to the "sudden death, mid-trial, of Slobodan Milosevic," the editors of the Independent write that "the court ... still has to prove that it can make charges stick against uncooperative defendants." The trial, too, is part of a tricky political framework:
While Croatia cruises towards EU accession, neighbouring Bosnia remains poised on a knife-edge. The UN and the EU have kept an uneasy peace, but they have made little headway in bringing reconciliation on the ground. There is much unfinished business here, of which the trial of Radovan Karadzic is just one part.
  • Serbs Still Not Ready for Trial "Radovan Karadzic," writes Allan Little, "sold the Serbs a narrative in which they were the true victims not the perpetrators." Of course, they often were victims, the former Bosnia reporter acknowledges: "at least a quarter of those who died in the war were Serbs, many of them at Srebrenica." But "[t]he prosecution in The Hague alleges they died in the pursuit of a criminal enterprise. Serb public opinion is not ready for this."
  • Fairness in Trial More Important Than Conviction Guardian columnist Martin Bell wants to see the trial "go ahead with or without the participation of the accused." He grants that Karadzic "can rightly claim that much of the pre-trial publicity has been prejudicial. The same was true in the Slobodan Milosevic case." But that points to a single conclusion, he argues:
The war crimes tribunal is a prosecutor's court. Sometimes in the past it has seemed to be more interested in securing convictions than in delivering justice. That must not happen in this case ... the eyes of the world will be on it. The TV coverage will be broadcast, and widely viewed, throughout the Balkans. That is an additional reason, in my view, why an acquittal for lack of sufficient evidence would be more to the tribunal's credit than a conviction unsafely arrived at ... Courts try cases. Cases also try courts. I believe that the tribunal will be judged by the fairness of its proceedings in this case more than any other than has come before it.

Update, 7:50 a.m.: The New York Times editorial board has also joined the discussion, agreeing with Bell that "[t]he court must accord Mr. Karadzic appropriate rights, but it cannot let him control the process." They also add that "[p]ersuading Bosnia's leaders" to stabilize the country and "[break] down official ethnic divisions ... will be as important to exorcising the Balkan ghosts as bringing war criminals to justice."

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