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Karadzic Trial Unlikely to Start Before September

Pre-trial judge calls on prosecution to simplify case to avoid a lengthy trial.
By Rory Gallivan
Radovan Karadzic’s war crimes trial at the Hague tribunal is unlikely to start before September and the prosecution’s case could go on for more than a year if the scope of the case is not narrowed, the judge presiding over pre-trial proceedings said this week.



Speaking at a status conference on July 1, Judge Iain Bonomy said a previous proposal to hold a pre-trial conference on July 20 now appeared unrealistic.



“This trial is unlikely to start prior to September. Even the pre-trial conference, I anticipate, will not be before September,” he said.



The indictment, which accuses Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb president, of genocide, crimes against humanity and other war crimes, contains four main elements.



The first relates to crimes committed during efforts to remove Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from territory occupied or attacked by Bosnian Serb forces between 1992 and 1995. The second concerns crimes committed during the 43-month siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, The third relates to the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim males. And the fourth concerns the Bosnian Serbs taking UN personnel hostage in the same year.



Judge Bonomy said that the prosecution’s current plans for witness examinations would take more than a year, given that it expected to need a total of 490 hours to question all its witnesses, and suggested it narrow the scope of the trial.



“If you take the ethnic cleansing [aspect of the indictment against Karadzic] on its own, it’s not immediately obvious why there must be 27 municipalities dealt with individually,” Judge Bonomy said.



“It may be that the fourth element in the indictment, hostage-taking, perhaps is one element that we just don’t have the luxury or the necessary time to deal with. It may be that we don’t have time to do both Srebrenica and Sarajevo.”



Matters relating to the scope of the trial will probably be debated when the court meets again in September, Judge Bonomy said.



During the status conference, Karadzic, who intends to defend himself, also took issue with the scope of the indictment.



“I’m really surprised the prosecution has engaged in such a voluminous undertaking,” he said.



“This is such a vast trial, it will take three years and I would not object at all if the prosecution were to shorten or eliminate certain things and make the process more effective and focused.



“I’m quite confident they don’t have a case against me. They’re trying to hit me with an air rifle.”



The lawyer for the prosecution, Alan Tieger, drew attention to the seriousness of the alleged crimes in the indictment to justify the scope of the prosecution’s case.



“The components of the case that we’ve identified – alleged ethnic cleansing from 1992 to 1995, the siege of Sarajevo, the events in Srebrenica – are rather fundamental issues and we intend to pursue those in the most effective and expeditious way,” he said.



Karadzic has denied all charges against him and repeatedly asserted his belief that he will be vindicated, most recently in a document submitted to the court on June 29.



“Dr Karadzic intends to defend himself with respect and dignity,” says the document, a pre-trial brief signed by Karadzic. “If the law is applied fairly and the truth about the events in Bosnia is allowed to come out, he is confident that the trial chamber will find him not guilty.”



At the status conference this week, Karadzic also asked the judge whether he meant September 2010 rather than September this year when he suggested that the pre-trial conference would be delayed beyond July 20.



“The material I have requires months and months of time just to look through it, to classify it and to give instructions to defence teams in the field to do their investigations,” he said.



He also alluded to his ongoing attempts to prove that he struck a deal with the former United States special envoy to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke, who Karadzic says agreed in 1996 to grant him immunity from prosecution in return for standing down from Bosnian Serb politics. He says he is seeking to interview Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt, at that time an aide to Holbrooke, to establish that such an agreement existed.



Holbrooke denies any such agreement took place and the tribunal has said that even if it had it would not be binding on this court.



“Mr Bildt is willing to communicate with the defence, but now they’re busy with the fact that they’ve taken over the chairmanship of the European Union,” Karadzic said, referring to Sweden taking over the six-month rotating presidency of the EU on July 1.



“I believe this contact will be made by the middle of this month.”



Referring to the court’s deliberations on the alleged Holbrooke deal, Judge Bonomy told Karadzic, “The chamber is actively considering how to deal with that and you may find that a decision on that is made fairly soon.”



Last month, Judge Bonomy asked Bildt to speak with Karadzic’s legal representatives about the alleged agreement.



Rory Gallivan is an IWPR contributor in London.

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