Karadzic Trial to Begin Next Month

New judge sets start date and asks prosecutors to cut indictment against accused once again.

Karadzic Trial to Begin Next Month

New judge sets start date and asks prosecutors to cut indictment against accused once again.

Monday, 14 September, 2009

In his first court meeting since taking over as pre-trial judge, Judge O’Gon Kwon this week ordered Hague tribunal prosecutors to further narrow the charges against former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic and told parties the trial would get under way on October 19.

The judge’s announcement prompted a protest from the former political strongman who only last week submitted written arguments for the start of the case to be delayed by ten months.

“I cannot be ready for the beginning of the trial. Should I embark on a trial that I am not ready for?” Karadzic asked the judge.

“Average trials [at the tribunal] have two years for preparation. This is by no means an average trial. This is the most complicated and most voluminous trial in this tribunal,” the defendant, who faces trial for genocide committed in Bosnia in the early 1990s, said earlier in this week’s hearing.

Karadzic first appeared before judges in The Hague just over a year ago, in July 2008, after his arrest in Belgrade earlier that month brought an end to 12 years on the run.

Despite the judges’ ruling this week, Karadzic continued to object strongly to the dismissal of his September 3 request that he be given more time to prepare his defence case before the trial begins.

“I want this trial to be exemplary, to be done well. I don’t want it to be a patchwork or a makeshift trial,” he told judges in court.

“It’s not just me, it’s the entire region and the three peoples in Bosnia-Hercegovina that need to know the truth,” he said, referring to the Bosniak, Croat and Serb populations of the Balkan state.

Kwon interrupted the defendant to explain that the ruling to reject his request to delay the start of the trial had already been made. He added that when making their decision, judges had taken into account both the proposed cuts to the charges and the limited speed at which the trial would progress once underway.

“The chamber is not convinced by the number of claims and assertions that you make in your submission or that the period of extension that you claim will be warranted,” Kwon told the defendant.

Kwon also pointed out that Karadzic, who has chosen not to be represented by a lawyer, was being assisted by a number of paid and unpaid advisors in the preparation of his defence.

“The fact of how much assistance you receive has been continuously demonstrated throughout the pre-trial period by the volume of motions and requests that you have filed,” Kwon said.

“You are clearly well assisted by many hardworking people,” he added.

Kwon used the court meeting to examine the impact of any changes to the indictment on the overall length of the trial, taking into account that he and one of his fellow judges are involved in another case at the tribunal and that, due to the congested schedule, the trial would only be able to sit three days a week.

“The case should be concluded in 30 months or two and a half years,” Kwon said. “Even in the worse scenario, [the trial] should in no way be extended over three years.”

Karadzic is charged with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including charges relating to the 1995 Srebrenica genocide and the 44-month siege of Sarajevo. The prosecution alleges that he was at the apex of a joint criminal plan to drive out Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb claimed territory.

Concerning the narrowing of its case, the prosecution had already responded to a similar request on August 31 from the recently retired judge, Lord Iain Bonomy, who for the last year has been in charge of preparing Karadzic’s case for trial.

Prosecutors had suggested discarding at least 38 witnesses from the list of those set to appear in the case and cutting their case from an estimated 490 to 293 hours. They had also proposed that if judges ruled it necessary, then they could cut the number of municipalities covered by the indictment to 17, striking out crimes committed in the municipalities of Banja Luka, Bosanska Krupa, Bosanski Petrovac, Brcko, Cajnice, Donji Vakuf, Kalinovik, Kotor Varos, Ilijas and Visegrad.

However, Kwon asked them this week to trim the indictment – which currently covers 27 Bosnian municipalities - even further, suggesting that the final version should stretch to no more than 10 to 12 municipalities.

The judge did not specify which municipalities should be dropped, but asked the prosecution to consider charges related to alleged opportunistic killings in the Srebrenica enclave and how significant they were to the case.

The indictment drafted on February 27, 2009, outlines five such incidents in the villages of Potocari and Bratunac in the run up to the Srebrenica massacre during July 1995.

While not ruling out the judge’s suggestion, American prosecutor Alan Tieger expressed his reservations about striking such charges, which he said were important for proving the case against the accused.

“In light of the backdrop of events in Srebrenica, the level of foreseeability of the killings is of such a level that their significance is considerably greater than might be the case with foreseeable killings related to other forcible transfer or deportation efforts [included in the indictment],” he responded to Kwon.

According to the prosecution’s indictment, the crimes of genocide, persecution, and killings with which Karadzic is charged were foreseeable to the former president of Republika Srpska as a possible consequence of the joint criminal plan.

On August 31, the prosecution, referring to the entire charge sheet, told judges that it “intends to prove these allegations by relying, in part, on the cumulative effect of the evidence supporting the individual crime sites and incidents, and the resulting patterns of criminal conduct that emerge from these incidents”.

Tieger added this week that considerations, such as those advanced by Kwon as to what should be included in the charges, had been made when drafting the original indictment.

Kwon gave prosecutors until September 18 to submit a written proposal to judges to cut the indictment in line with his suggestions.

Karadzic, meanwhile, warned judges of the futility of cutting charges in order to shorten the duration of the trial.

“The drastic reduction of the prosecution case does not mean a proportional reduction in the defence case,” he said.

The defendant then signalled his intention to address wartime events in the various parts of Bosnia as a whole during the trial.

“If there is a single municipality, a single incident which took place there which is included in the indictment, the defence has to cover the entire municipality because the incident was not isolated,” Karadzic said.

“It happened within the framework of the developments within the entire municipality.”

Observers of the trial told IWPR they were supportive of judges’ requests to limit the charges, pointing out that it is within their remit to make sure the case is manageable, and is processed in a reasonable amount of time.

“What the judges are doing in this case is not unusual and it’s consistent with what they’ve done in every case in the last few years,” Alex Whiting, a former tribunal prosecutor, told IWPR. He pointed to additions made to the tribunal’s rules under its strategy to wind up its trials in line with its limited United Nations mandate, which allow for judges to request that prosecutors streamline indictments.

“In virtually every case [to take place since these rules were introduced] the court has ordered the prosecution to cut the case and, typically, it’s an almost standard order that gets issued by judges,” he said.

However, Whiting believes that the request to cut such a large number of municipalities from the charge sheet will be of great concern to prosecutors as doing so could jeopardise their chances of proving the most serious allegations against Karadzic.

Showing the widespread nature of crimes committed is necessary for prosecutors to prove the existence of a joint conspiracy headed by the Bosnian Serb political leadership, Whiting explained.

“Sometimes we fall into this notion that you can just pick out crimes and since they are all so serious, that’ll be good enough [to secure convictions],” Whiting said.

“But in order to prove the responsibility of high-level accused, you have to prove a widespread pattern because that is what shows that this [criminal activity] is being coordinated from above.

“In these high leadership cases, there don’t tend to be direct orders from the commanders or from the political leaders to commit these crimes and so the proof of an organisation’s plan and coordination is made by showing that these crimes are being committed in a large number of municipalities at the same time.

“The prosecution is going to look for every way possible to cut the case without reducing dramatically the number of municipalities.”

Meanwhile, Michael Karnavas, a tribunal defence lawyer, said that the judges’ request was partly prompted by another case at the court: that of Karadzic’s former political ally, Momcilo Krajisnik.

Krajisnik served alongside Karadzic as the former speaker of the Bosnian Serb assembly and was sentenced to 20 years in prison by appeals judges in March this year.

However, prosecutors failed to convict Krajisnik on the most serious charges, including genocide, which, according to Karnavas, has made judges mindful of what to expect from prosecutors in the Karadzic trial.

“[The judges] have had, for lack of a better term, a dress rehearsal for this [Karadzic] trial already with Krajisnik,” Karnavas said.

“[Krajisnik] was way over charged and... [prosecutors] couldn’t make most of their case. The prosecution knows its limitations and, more importantly, the court also knows [them].”

According to him, judges are right to ask prosecutors to limit the charges against Karadzic to those which they are most likely to secure a conviction for.

“The trial judges realise that having such an over broad indictment is not going to serve any purposes unless somehow in this particular case they have more evidence that was not presented in the Krajisnik case,” he said.

Many expectations rest on the Karadzic trial both at the tribunal and in the former Yugoslavia where the war’s victims are hoping that the most senior political figure in the Bosnian Serb regime will be held accountable for the conflict’s most serious atrocities, in particular, the genocide which took place at Srebrenica and which prosecutors allege was also committed across large swathes of Bosnia.

Karadzic is the most senior politician to appear in front of judges at the Hague tribunal since former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, who died midway through his trial in 2006, before a judgement could be passed.

Some believe that Karadzic’s trial offers an opportunity for those victims disappointed by the lack of a judgment in the Milosevic trial to receive justice.

However, Karnavas said that in line with their duty, the judges do not view the trial in the context of its ramifications for victims or the legacy of the Yugoslav tribunal.

“They are looking at it very objectively. I think Kwon is being very realistic,” he said.

Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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