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First Srebrenica Witness Called in Karadzic Trial

Defendant fails to get trial suspended while he reviews documents related to genocide charges.
By Alexandra Arkin
  • Witness testifying under the pseudonym KDZ039 at the Karadzic trial. (Photo: ICTY)
    Witness testifying under the pseudonym KDZ039 at the Karadzic trial. (Photo: ICTY)

The prosecution case in the trial of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic entered its final phase this week with testimony from the first witness to give evidence on the 1995 Srebrenica genocide.

Protected witness KDZ039 survived a mass execution of approximately 1,000 Bosniak detainees at Orahovac near Srebrenica after the fall town fell to Serb forces in the summer of 1995.

The witness previously testified at the Hague tribunal in November 2007, in the trial of Vujadin Popovic, a former colonel in the Bosnian Serb army who was convicted of genocide, extermination, murder and persecutions and sentenced to life imprisonment. Popovic’s conviction is under appeal.

Prosecutors allege that Karadzic, president of the self-declared Republika Srpska, RS, from 1992 to 1996, is responsible for crimes of genocide, 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”.

He is also accused of planning and overseeing the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that left nearly 12,000 people dead, and the massacre of some 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995.

Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008 after 13 years on the run.

Since the trial began in April 2010, prosecutors have presented evidence relating to other parts of the indictment, including the siege of Sarajevo, crimes committed in 20 Bosnian municipalities and the detention of more than 200 United Nations peacekeepers and military observers in RS in 1995.

According to the Hague tribunal, the prosecution’s case is about 65 per cent complete.

So far, the prosecution has called 138 witnesses, including protected witness KDZ039.

Earlier in the week, the trial chamber denied Karadzic’s request to suspend his trial for one month before beginning the phase of the case that focuses on the genocide in Srebrenica.

In his November 11 motion to suspend trial proceedings, Karadzic cited failure by the office of the prosecutor to release hundreds of thousands of pages of documents related to the events in good time, which he said deprived him of sufficient opportunity to review the documents and prepare for this stage of the trial.

According to the motion, when receiving the late disclosures as well as hundreds of additional documents about Srebrenica, the defence had to put them aside without reviewing them, instead prioritising the examination of a large number of late disclosures related to the “municipalities” component of the case.

Karadzic argued in the motion that past suspensions granted by the trial chamber were not long enough to accomplish everything the defence team needed to do. Since the trial has been going on full-time since May, the accused claims that he and his defence team have had insufficient time and resources to allot to the Srebrenica evidence.

“The defence team has been hanging on by its fingernails just to keep up with the preparation of the municipalities component of the case,” he wrote. As a result, “the defence faces the prospect of having to commence the Srebrenica component of the case completely unprepared as a result of the lack of adequate time and resources.”

The trial chamber issued its decision on November 22, finding that most of the material was disclosed almost a year ago, and that “the accused has failed to show good cause as to why he chose to set aside and not review the disclosed material for almost one year”.

It further determined that the number of disclosed items in the defence team’s possession was about 5,500 – fewer than half the number cited by Karadzic in his motion.

While the court has suspended proceedings in the past in an effort to give Karadzic enough time to review disclosed material and to protect his right to a fair trial, it also decided in a previous situation that a suspension was not necessary each time he received new material because he must be able to consider it on a continuing basis as part of ongoing trial preparations.

“Thus, without making a finding as to the use of time by the accused and his defence team and their internal allocation of resources, the chamber considers that the accused has had plenty of opportunity to review, at least partially, the disclosed material,” the court wrote in its decision. “Given that the accused has chosen to represent himself, he bears the burden of managing his own case and the resources granted to him.”

The chamber also decided that because the defendant has been aware of the general order in which the prosecution intended to present its case and the general order in which the prosecution intended to call its witnesses, he and his team should have been able to organise their resources and prioritise their time appropriately.

“Given the lack of good cause established by the accused to justify granting a suspension, and the disruption that a suspension of the trial proceedings for one month prior to the commencement of the Srebrenica component of the case would cause, the chamber is not satisfied that it [is] in the interests of justice to grant the accused’s request,” the judges wrote.

The chamber reminded the prosecutors to provide Karadzic with all relevant material related to their remaining witnesses as early as possible, “to enable him to focus his efforts on these witnesses and the material relevant thereto”.

Karadzic will finish cross-examining witness KDZ039 when the trial resumes next week.

Alexandra Arkin is an IWPR editorial intern in The Hague.

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