Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

International Justice/ICTY: Feb/Mar ‘10

Report on Karadzic decision to represent himself said to contribute to better understanding of an important and evolving area of law.
By IWPR

Legal experts say an IWPR special report on the decision by former Serb leader Radovan Karadzic to boycott his own trial will improve practitioners’ grasp of the issues involved in self-representation.

On March 1, Karadzic delivered the opening statements in his long anticipated trial, four months after boycotting – and effectively halting – the proceedings against him.

Karadzic is accused of orchestrating some of the worst atrocities of the Bosnian war, including the 1995 Srebrenica massacre and the 44-month siege of Sarajevo.

The judges eventually appointed a standby counsel, and Karadzic continues to represent himself at the trial, the most high-profile the tribunal has seen in years.

The special report Could Karadzic Trial Boycott Have Been Prevented?, by IWPR Hague tribunal Rachel Irwin, investigated the issues that arose in the months leading to up to the start of the case in October 2009 and whether the boycott could have been foreseen or prevented.

Legal experts said that the piece contributed to a better understanding of an important and evolving area of the law.

Alex Whiting, a law professor at Harvard University and a former prosecutor at the tribunal, who was interviewed for the special report, said he had gained “a better and more detailed appreciation” of the issue of self-representation in the Karadzic case after reading the article.

He said that the piece could be useful for practitioners, members of the public and academics studying the Karadzic case.

“This question of self-representation is complicated and sensitive and [Irwin’s] detailed analysis really advanced the ball on this issue and explained it well,” he said. “One thing I learned [from the article] – and maybe judges and practitioners might also learn – was that it is perhaps better to take steps to have a standby counsel appointed as soon as warning signs appear.

“In this field, in particular, we are learning with each case and I would say that the principal impact this article will have is to help practitioners identify the warning signs.”

The special report also looked at other cases, such as that of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic and the ongoing trial of Serbian nationalist Vojislav Seselj. Judges have repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to assign Seselj counsel.

Nick Kaufman, a former prosecutor at the tribunal, said that the article provided a record and a context which could be of particular use in future cases.

“As a practitioner, knowing how these issues are dealt with at other tribunals is very important,” he said. “Speaking as a lawyer, the issue is not whether the boycott could have been prevented but how the judges dealt with the issues, and these legal points were very well presented.”

Paul Troop, a lawyer at Tooks Chambers in London who has represented defendants at the tribunal, and was interviewed for the piece, said the article would be useful for both practitioners and for informed members of the general public who are interested in the case.

“It certainly highlights one of the main issues of tribunals,” he said. “The article is really important [as a contribution] to the debate [on self-representation] and to get the widest possible audience to understand this issue, showing its complexity through the prism of one case.”

The special report was also welcomed elsewhere. In Serbia, Zdravko Ilic, expert advisor at the country’s European Union Integration Office, said the piece had “helped me get a better picture of the inner workings of the Hague tribunal.

“The article is very informative and it highlights some important issues related to self-defence from several different angles, which I found very useful. One rarely thinks about all the problems, including huge delays, that can arise when the defendant is given the right to represent himself in court.

“There is very little information in the Serbian media about the quality of the trials taking place at the Hague tribunal, so it was very interesting to read an article which looks into this court's policy regarding self-representation; what it can or cannot do to prevent the delays of the proceedings; the relationship between the judges and the defendant on the one hand, and the prosecution on the other.”

As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.

VIEW FOCUS PAGE >