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Karadzic Lobbies Judges Over "Immunity Deal"

Although unproven, the agreement may be a mitigating factor if defendant is found guilty.
By Rachel Irwin
  • Radovan Karadzic, former Bosnian Serb political leader in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)
    Radovan Karadzic, former Bosnian Serb political leader in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)

Trial judges at the Hague tribunal have agreed to take into consideration an alleged agreement promising Radovan Karadzic immunity from prosecution when they decide the length of his prison sentence, if he is convicted.

Since he was arrested in July 2008, Karadzic has claimed that in 1996 – several months after the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement ended the Bosnian war – he made a deal with American diplomat Richard Holbrooke that he would be “immune from prosecution at the tribunal if he agreed to withdraw from public life”.

Holbrooke, who died in 2010, publicly denied these allegations. (See also Prosecutors Reject Karadzic's Holbrooke Immunity Claims.)

Karadzic, however, has continued to maintain that such a deal had been made, and that the tribunal therefore did not have jurisdiction to try him. In July 2009, the pretrial chamber in The Hague ruled that even if the agreement did exist, it was not binding on the tribunal and had no impact on jurisdiction. The judges noted, however, that information pertaining to the alleged agreement “may be relevant to any eventual appeal and any eventual sentence”.

The appeals chamber agreed, stating that “such allegations could be considered for the purposes of sentencing, if appropriate”.

With his trial now nearing an end, Karadzic asked to submit 14 documents supporting the existence of the agreement. He further argued that according to tribunal jurisprudence, “the character and acts of the accused subsequent to the conflict may be a mitigating factor in sentencing”.

Karadzic contends that his resignation as president of the Bosnian Serb entity Republika Srpska in 1996 was his “contribution to the implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement”. He “went further by resigning as president of the SDS [Serbian Democratic Party] and all public functions, and withdrawing from public life”.

Karadzic argues that he is “entitled to argue for a sentence reduction as a result of his reliance upon the agreement he had with Richard Holbrooke that he would not be prosecuted at the tribunal if he resigned from office and withdrew from public life – an agreement he kept to his detriment, but one which the tribunal refused to honour”.

In response, the prosecution argued this week that “to the extent that they address the existence of the Holbrooke agreement”, the documents Karadzic wanted to have admitted as evidence “are not capable of mitigating the sentence and thus are not admissible”.

Judges this week noted that both the pre-trial chamber and the appeals chamber had found that material relating to the alleged agreement might be relevant for sentencing. Given the additional information provided by the accused, they decided that “the material is prima facie relevant to sentencing and should be admitted into evidence”.

As for the prosecution’s objections, judges stated, “this is a matter of weight given to the material and considered during sentencing deliberations, if any”.

The last defence witness to testify in Karadzic’s trial, referred to by the number KDZ-584, will take the stand on March 3.

Prosecutors allege that Karadzic, the president of Bosnia’s self-declared Republika Srpska 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, as well as the massacre of more than 7,000 men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995.

Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008 after 13 years as a fugitive.

Rachel Irwin is IWPR’s Senior Reporter in The Hague.