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Karadzic Bid to Exclude Phone Intercepts Rejected

Judges in Karadzic case rule that allowing recorded pre-war conversations to be used in evidence would not impact on fairness of his trial.
By Rachel Irwin
  • Radovan Karadzic in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)
    Radovan Karadzic in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)

Judges at the Hague tribunal this week rejected Radovan Karadzic’s bid to exclude all pre-war intercepted phone conversations from being admitted as evidence during his trial.

These phone intercepts– often featuring Karadzic himself and other members of the Bosnian Serb leadership – have frequently been cited, quoted and played during the proceedings.

After objecting verbally to the admission of intercepts featuring court witness and ex-Bosnian Serb government minister Momcilo Mandic – who was acquitted in February this year by the Bosnian state court of war crimes - Karadzic argued in an August 17 motion that the conversations were intercepted by Bosnian government authorities “in violation of Bosnian law.

“While preaching ethnic unity and a multi-ethnic state, in practice the Bosnian Muslims violated Bosnian law and the constitution before the war broke out by misusing state organs to illegally intercept telephone conversations of other ethnic groups,” Karadzic stated.

“This duplicity violated the privacy of Bosnian citizens. To allow evidence which is the product of such cheating and deception to be admitted in a trial at this tribunal would be antithetical to the interests of justice,” Karadzic continued.

The judges disagreed, stating in their September 30 decision that “it would be inappropriate to exclude relevant and probative evidence due to procedural considerations, as long as the fairness of the trial is guaranteed”.

Furthermore, the judges said that the admission of these intercepts did not “violate the accused’s right to privacy to such an extent that the integrity of these proceedings would be damaged” and that “the fundamental right to privacy is not absolute and may be derogated from in times of emergency”.

“The chamber does not consider the admission of evidence that may have been obtained illegally to conflict with the need to ensure a fair trial,” the judges concluded.

In other news this week, the judges decided to keep to a four-day per week court schedule for the time being, despite earlier indications they intended to begin sitting five days per week.

However, they said they may use a fifth day for related hearings or to finish witness testimony that had previously begun.

Karadzic had argued that upon advice from his doctor, the schedule should be kept to four days per week. Judges noted that this advice was based on the fact that Karadzic is considered “overweight” and does not get sufficient exercise or fresh air.

“The medical report therefore assumes that on a four-day sitting schedule, the accused would use the fifth weekday to exercise,” the judges stated. “The chamber notes this is only an assumption and that at present nothing indicates that the accused would actually exercise on the fifth weekday, or that he is currently doing so.”

The judges also stated that Karadzic is choosing to represent himself, and that at any time he may choose to be officially represented by a lawyer if he finds the workload too much of a burden. They added that he “had been afforded considerable resources, including for the remuneration of his legal advisors, case managers and other assistants”.

After several delays, witness testimony in the trial began last April and the prosecution case is expected to continue for several more months.

Karadzic, the president of Bosnia’s Republika Srpska from 1992 to 1996, is accused of planning and overseeing the massacre of some 8,000 Bosniak men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995, as well as the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that left nearly 12,000 people dead.

The indictment - which lists 11 counts in total - alleges that he was 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”.

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

Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.