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Parties Prepare for Start of Karadzic Trial

Proceedings, though, are unlikely to start before mid August.
By Simon Jennings
Judges set to hear the case against Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb president charged with genocide, have timetabled the final preparations for the beginning of the Hague tribunal trial.



According to an order filed by judges on April 7, they will hold a pre-trial conference – which is normally a final meeting between all parties before the start of a trial – on July 20, after the defence and prosecution have submitted the required case material.



“The chamber considers that it is now time for a work plan to be issued so that this case can proceed expeditiously to trial,” stated tribunal judges in their order.



No firm date has been set for the start of proceedings. However, the tribunal takes a three-week summer break from July 27 – by which time Karadzic will have been in custody in The Hague for a year – and the trial is not expected to start before court officials’ scheduled return to work on August 17.



The prosecution is set to hand judges a full outline of its case and a list of witnesses by May 18.



Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade on July 21 last year after evading capture since he stepped down as president of the Serb-run Bosnian entity of Republika Srpska in 1996.



Prosecutors are seeking to prove that Karadzic was at the helm of a genocidal occupation of large parts of Bosnia between 1991 and 1995. He is charged with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the 44-month siege of Sarajevo between April 1992 and November 1995, and the massacre of approximately 8,000 Bosniaks at Srebrenica in July 1995.



In a ruling handed down by the appeals chamber this week, judges rejected Karadzic’s bid to be granted immunity from prosecution at the tribunal based on an alleged agreement he says he made with the former United States special envoy, Richard Holbrooke.



Since he first appeared in the courtroom in The Hague in July last year, Karadzic has repeatedly claimed that in 1996, Holbrooke guaranteed him protection from prosecution in return for stepping down from public life after the war. Holbrooke has denied the claims.



The appeals ruling upheld a decision by trial judges on December 17, 2008, that any such agreement on Karadzic’s immunity from prosecution at the tribunal would not hold water.



The trial chamber had ruled that “any immunity agreement in respect of an accused indicted for genocide, war crimes and/or crimes against humanity before an international tribunal would be invalid under international law” and that the court’s and the prosecutor’s mandate was unaffected by any claimed deal with Holbrooke.



However, this week’s appeal ruling does not put an end to the matter.



Karadzic informed Judge Iain Bonomy in a court appearance on April 2 that he and his legal team plan to submit new arguments to support his claims about the agreement with the US diplomat after he gathered what he described as “convincing” evidence.



Judge Bonomy is now set to allow Karadzic to submit further arguments on the subject.



Meanwhile, Karadzic has continued to press the court to allow him to speak by telephone to a member of the press about the alleged Holbrooke deal.



In a decision issued on March 11, the court’s registry gave Karadzic permission to conduct an interview with a Dutch journalist by letter. However, Karadzic complained that this unfairly restricted his freedom of expression and that the media would not be interested “in such… exchanges”.



“Interviews by journalists are not conducted by written questionnaire because such contact lacks the spontaneity of oral communication and the ability to follow-up or clarify answers,” submitted Karadzic on March 20.



The dispute follows the decision taken by the court’s vice-president, Judge O-Gon Kwon, on February 12 to overturn the registry’s ban on a media interview and allow Karadzic to contact the journalist.



Judge Kwon ruled that Karadzic could use “written communication, telephone calls, or whatever other means the Registrar deems appropriate”.



The registry responded to the judge’s decision by granting an interview with Zvezdana Vukojevic, of Dutch magazine Revu, in the form of written questions, arguing that to allow contact by telephone could risk Karadzic divulging confidential information relating to witnesses in his case.



The court is also anxious about how the journalist may treat a telephone interview. “It cannot be guaranteed that the detainee’s interlocutor will not live-broadcast or tape-record the conversation,” argued the registrar.



In his latest submission to Judge Kwon on the matter, Karadzic points to the vice-president’s original decision granting him a media interview which stated that the registrar had not identified any conduct which would suggest that Karadzic may breach court rules on confidentiality.



The defendant denounced the registrar for “choosing the most restrictive form of communication and justifying it with the same blanket illogic which flawed his initial decision [to ban the interview]”.



Karadzic is set to appear in court again next month at a hearing to discuss both parties’ progress towards trial.



Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.