Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Appeals judges in The Hague this week ruled week that the charge of hostage-taking will remain in the indictment of wartime Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic.
Their decision stems from Karadzic’s bid to have all 11 counts against him dismissed prior to the start of his defence case. (See Karadzic Asks for Acquittal.)
In June of this year, trial judges acquitted Karadzic of one count of genocide – relating to Bosnian municipalities aside from Srebrenica – but ruled that he would have to defend himself against the remaining ten counts of the indictment. They include the Srebrenica genocide charge, and the accusation that Karadzic is responsible for taking United Nations peacekeepers and military observers as hostages between May and June 1995. (See Karadzic Acquitted of One Genocide Count.)
Prosecutors appealed against the genocide acquittal, while Karadzic appealed against the decision to keep the hostage-taking count in the indictment. (Karadzic Prosecutors Challenge Decision on Genocide Charge.)
The accused argued that the peacekeepers and military observers were “taking an active part in the hostilities and therefore were not protected persons” under article three of the Geneva Conventions. Karadzic also argued that if the hostages did have protected status, he was unaware of this.
He further questioned the judges’ logic in extending legal protection to detained combatants.
“[It] makes no sense that a perpetrator is privileged to shoot and kill a combatant but commits a crime when he threatens him with death or detention,” he wrote in a July 2012 filing.
He further stated that the issue needed to be addressed by the appeals chamber because it had wider legal implications for peacekeeping operations generally.
“A definitive ruling on the status of UN personnel will provide important guidance in the conduct of present and future peacekeeping operations, such as Syria,” he wrote in July.
Appeals judges dismissed his arguments as “unconvincing” in their December 11 decision.
They held that the “prohibition on hostage-taking” in Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions “applies to all detained individuals, irrespective of whether their detention is explicitly sought in order to use them as hostages, and irrespective of their prior status as combatants”.
No decision has yet been made on the prosecution’s appeal against the genocide acquittal.
Karadzic still faces a count of genocide relating to the 1995 massacre in the eastern town of Srebrenica, where more than 7,000 Bosniak boys and men were killed.
His indictment also includes counts of persecution, extermination, murder, deportation, inhumane acts, terror, and unlawful attacks in relation to the 44 month siege of Sarajevo and crimes committed in various Bosnian municipalities.
Karadzic’s defence case began in October and is ongoing.
Rachel Irwin is IWPR’s Senior Reporter in The Hague.
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