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Prosecutors Seek to Streamline Karadzic Indictment

Two months after ex-Bosnian Serb leader arrested, tribunal prosecutors apply to amend his charge sheet.
By Simon Jennings
Hague prosecutors this week submitted proposed amendments to charges against former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic, narrowing the trial’s scope to “increase the efficiency of proceedings”.

While some observers welcome the proposals, saying prosecutors have struck an appropriate balance between ensuring efficiency and covering a reasonable number of crimes, others question the decision to include certain charges.

Karadzic was taken into tribunal custody on July 30 after his arrest on a bus in Belgrade ended 13 years on the run. The key charges against him are related to the 44-month siege of Sarajevo during which some 12,000 people died, and the 1995 Srebrenica genocide when more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were massacred.

Prosecutors at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, are seeking to reduce Karadzic’s criminal liability to 27 of the 47 Bosnian municipalities mentioned in the original indictment, which was last amended in April 2000, and contained 11 counts.

While the proposed new version – which was filed with the tribunal registry on September 22 – also contains 11 counts, an extra count of genocide has been added.

Karadzic was originally charged on one count of genocide for atrocities committed both in Srebrenica in July 1995 and during 1991 and 1992 across 18 municipalities in Bosnia. These have now been split into two separate counts, although prosecutors have limited the extent of the earlier charge.

If the amendments are passed by judges, Karadzic will be charged with committing genocide between March 31 and December 31, 1992, in just ten municipalities – namely Bratunac, Brcko, Foca, Kljuc, Kotor Varos, Prijedor, Sanski Most, Visegrad, Vlasenica and Zvornik.

Similarly, the genocide count relating to Srebrenica has been reduced from covering the period from March-November 1995 to only tackling incidents occurring between July to November of that year.

Prosecutors say the narrower charges “will contribute to a more efficient and expeditious presentation of the prosecution’s case”.

The tribunal is under pressure to conclude the trial before its mandate from the United Nations Security Council expires in 2010. Although tribunal president Fausto Pocar has asked for an extension, the Security Council has yet to respond.

Some tribunal watchers say the amended indictment covers a full range of crimes, but is sufficiently streamlined to set up an efficient trial.

“The things that public opinion is most interested in are in [the proposed indictment],” said Goran Sluiter, professor of International Law at Amsterdam University.

“At this time, it is inevitable and it is also what we have learnt from other trials that you cannot [cover] everything. You have to select [a limited number, and] the selection looks fair and reasonable.”

However, other experts have questioned whether prosecutors are right to include a separate count of genocide in relation to alleged crimes committed across Bosnia during 1992.

They note that in previous trials, prosecutors at both the ICTY and the International Court of Justice, ICJ, have failed to prove that crimes committed across the country during this year – when non-Serbs were forcibly expelled from large parts of territory – amount to genocide.

“[Prosecutors] have been unsuccessful with [proving] genocide charges for everything but [the massacre at] Srebrenica, and that’s been confirmed by the International Court of Justice,” Professor William Schabas, director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights, told IWPR.

“I think it’s curious that when they provide the indictment that they return to this, rather than drop it.”

Following a 2002 plea agreement with Biljana Plavsic – a former member of the presidency of the Bosnian Serb entity, Republika Srpska – prosecutors decided to dropped the genocide charge first brought in relation to similar crimes.

Then, in September 2004, Hague tribunal judges acquitted Radoslav Brdjanin – the former president of the Autonomous Region of Krajina, ARK, crisis staff – of genocide charges related to crimes allegedly committed against Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats from April to December 1992.

In the case of former Bosnian Serb leader Momcilo Krajisnik – a one-time close ally of Karadzic and Plavsic – judges also acquitted the accused on genocide charges.

In their judgement in September 2006, they found that while there was evidence that crimes committed in Bosnia constituted the criminal act of genocide, they did not establish that the accused possessed genocidal intent – which is necessary to prove the charge.

The inclusion of the genocide charge for similar crimes in the Karadzic trial, especially in the absence of any more evidence, seems inconsistent with the prosecution’s bid for an efficient trial, said Schabas.

“If the purpose of the indictment is to streamline things and focus the court so that they are in a position to conclude this rapidly…it seems odd that they want to re-litigate an issue that is a non-starter,” he said.

The prosecution has also removed charges related to breaching the Geneva conventions. In order to prove such crimes, prosecutors would have to show that there was an international armed conflict going on.

Cutting the charges, it says, “obviates the need for the prosecution to establish the existence of an international armed conflict, thereby reducing the complexity of its case”.

According to Schabas, this move “makes sense” because addressing broader charges does not help the process of securing a conviction for war crimes. A conviction can be made on a narrower basis without needing to address the international nature of the conflict, he explained.

The proposed indictment also increases the extent to which Karadzic is claimed to have conspired with others to ensure the permanent removal of large numbers of Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats from Bosnia.

He is now charged for his role in four Joint Criminal Enterprises in which prosecutors allege he “acted with different persons at different times, depending on the criminal objective he was implementing”.

These relate to the siege of Sarajevo, genocide in Srebrenica, certain municipalities overrun by Bosnian Serbs and the taking of UN hostages in May and June 1995.

Prosecutors are calling on judges to approve their proposed changes, saying that these will not result in any excessive delay to the start of the trial or prejudice Karadzic as he builds his defence case.

The accused will have the opportunity to respond to the amendments before judges make their ruling.

Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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