Defiant Karadzic Refuses to Enter Plea

Ex-Bosnian Serb leader argues Hague court is not entitled to try him.

Defiant Karadzic Refuses to Enter Plea

Ex-Bosnian Serb leader argues Hague court is not entitled to try him.

Friday, 13 March, 2009

Former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic has refused to enter a plea on finalised charges against him, saying the Hague tribunal “does not have the right” to try him.

At a brief court hearing on March 3, Karadzic repeated his claim that he made an agreement with US diplomat Richard Holbrooke in 1996, promising him exemption from prosecution if he stepped down from politics and withdrew from public office in Republika Srpska.

“I have a general position in relation to the entire indictment,” Karadzic told judges, at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY.

“I’m challenging it on the basis of my agreement with the international community, whose representative at that time was Mr Richard Holbrooke.”

Presiding judge Iain Bonomy then entered a plea of “not guilty” to all 11 charges facing the defendant on his behalf and asked for a trial date to be set.

Since his transfer to The Hague on July 30, 2008, Karadzic has repeatedly spoken of the deal which he says was made in Belgrade on July 18 and 19, 1996.

He argues that the alleged agreement applies to his case at the ICTY because it was made “on behalf of, or in consultation with the member states of the United Nations Security Council” – the body which ordered the creation of the court.

“I am defending a principle here that wars cannot be concluded and peace agreements cannot be signed by deceit. One cannot play games with entire regions and even with the world as a whole,” said the defendant in court this week.

“I’m not going to enter a plea at all for the reasons that I mentioned. This tribunal does not have the right to try me.”

Holbroke has denied Karadzic’s claims of a deal, while judges have ruled that any such agreement would have no bearing at the ICTY.

“[It is] well established that any immunity agreement in respect of an accused indicted for genocide, war crimes and/or crimes against humanity before an international tribunal would be invalid under international law,” said judges in a decision of December 17, 2008, which Karadzic is currently appealing.

In the final indictment, submitted by prosecutors on February 27, Karadzic is charged with two counts of genocide in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995.

Prosecutors are seeking to prove he was the political force behind the massacre of almost 8,000 Bosniak men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995.

They have also charged him with genocide in relation to crimes committed in ten municipalities across Bosnia – Visegrad, Prijedor, Bratunac, Foca, Brcko, Kljuc, Kotor Varos, Sanski Most, Vlasenica and Zvornik – between March and December 1992.

Karadzic, who was captured by Serbian secret service agents in Belgrade last July after 13 years on the run, is also indicted for the 44-month campaign of sniping and shelling on the city of Sarajevo, which resulted in nearly 12,000 civilian deaths.

The indictment – which lists 11 counts in total – alleges his responsibility for crimes of persecution, extermination, murder and forcible transfer which “contributed to achieving the objective of the permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory”.

The defendant has twice refused to plead to charges during two separate court appearances following his arrest in the summer of 2008. On those occasions, he said that he would wait for prosecutors to finalise the charge sheet against him.

The final indictment covers just 27 of the 41 crime sites contained in Karadzic’s previous indictment, which was last updated in April 2000.

This week, Karadzic again criticised the level of legal support provided to him by the tribunal.

While he has chosen to represent himself rather than employ a lawyer, he has complained through written submissions that the tribunal had not set aside enough money for the payment of his legal advisers. He said this means these advisers cannot devote enough time to his case.

“I still don’t have a team of my own, through no fault of my own,” said Karadzic in court. “I still do not have the right conditions for preparing my defence.”

On March 2, the defendant appealed a judges' decision, which confirmed the registry's level of remuneration for his legal advisers.

In their ruling, judges referred to a previous decision handed down by the court's appeals chamber which, they said, implied that if a defendant lacked the ability to present his defence efficiently and effectively then, rather than providing high-level legal professionals to assist, the court should instead impose counsel.

Karadzic argued that the judges' decision will prevent him from getting the legal support his case requires and will “thus impinge his right to a fair trial and prevent the proper administration of justice”.

Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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