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Karadzic ends boycott to attend hearing on his case at The Hague

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-11-03

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic attended a status conference on his case Tuesday at The Hague’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, his first appearance since he announced a boycott of his trial.

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic attended a procedural hearing on his case on Tuesday at The Hague’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), his first appearance before the court since he announced his boycott of the trial last month.

As he addressed the court, Karadzic repeated his previous insistence that he needed more time to prepare an adequate defence. Claiming his refusal to appear was not his own choice, Karadzic said he meant “no personal disrespect” to the tribunal.

“I do not want to boycott these proceedings,” Karadzic told the court. “But I cannot take part in something that has been bad from the start, when my fundamental rights have been violated – first of all, stemming from Article 21 of the [ICTY] statue … the right to have enough time to prepare my defence.”

Karadzic also threw out a rhetorical challenge to the court, asking: “In whose interest is it for this trial not to be a good one?”

Tuesday’s hearing will determine how to move forward, given Karadzic’s refusal to attend. Karadzic, 64, who has chosen to defend himself against war crimes charges with the aid of a team of legal advisers, announced October 21 that he would not be present as proceedings began, saying that he was being treated unfairly and needed more time to prepare his defence. Karadzic has requested up to 10 more months to have enough time to review some one million pages of evidence.

Karadzic’s refusal to participate in his trial for war crimes has created some thorny issues for the tribunal, which must proceed carefully with a case that could make or break its legitimacy in the eyes of the world.  

“This is a very tricky legal problem, there is no precedent for this,” says FRANCE 24 correspondent Cyril Vanier at The Hague. “There is no rule for this in the statutes of the tribunal, so the judges are in uncharted legal territory.”

Among the options now under consideration by the court is to proceed with the trial despite Karadzic’s absence or to appoint a defence lawyer to act for him, which could delay the trial by several months to give Karadzic’s new legal advisers time to prepare.
“Should he maintain his position that he will not attend the trial we may proceed in his absence and assign counsel to represent him,” judge O-Gon Kwon said on Monday.

Karadzic’s trial was scheduled to begin on October 26 but was adjourned by a day after his refusal to appear. Prosecutors began opening arguments the following day.
“We advise him to consider this carefully prior to making his oral submissions tomorrow,” the judge said Monday.

From Sarajevo to Srebrenica

Court proceedings resumed in the former Bosnian Serb leader’s absence on Monday, with prosecutor Alan Tieger maintaining that Karadzic was well aware that forces under his command were targeting civilians during the siege of Sarajevo.

“The accused knew throughout the course of the 44-month siege that his forces were shelling and sniping at civilians and creating conditions of terror for the citizens of Sarajevo,” Tieger said.

The former wartime leader has been charged with 11 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for his actions during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, which claimed an estimated 100,000 lives.

Karadzic is also accused of being one of the masterminds of a plan to permanently remove Bosnian Muslims and Croats from Serb-claimed territory in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He has been blamed for the July 1995 massacre of at least 7,000 Muslim men and boys at the UN-declared safe zone at Srebrenica, which was under the watch of lightly armed Dutch peacekeepers at the time.

Speaking at the court on Monday, Tieger called the Srebrenica killings – the single largest massacre on European soil since World War Two – “one of humanity's dark chapters”.
Posing as an alternative healer during his 13 years on the run, a bearded Karadzic was arrested on a Belgrade bus in July 2008.

He faces life imprisonment if convicted. Karadzic has denied all the charges against him.

Karadzic’s military commander, Ratko Mladic, is still on the run.  

Date created : 2009-11-03


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