Karadzic no-show forces trial adjournment

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic failed to attend the opening of his long-awaited war crimes trial at The Hague Monday, forcing the judge to adjourn proceedings until Tuesday.


Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic failed to attend the opening of his long-awaited war crimes trial at The Hague Monday, setting up a test of wills between the accused and the judges, who must now decide how to proceed.

Opening the proceedings at The Hague shortly after 9:00 am (0800 GMT) Monday, the presiding judge, O-Gon Kwon, noted that "the accused Mr Karadzic is not present," before launching an early warning at Karadzic. "We request Mr Karadzic to attend so that his trial is not further obstructed," said Kwon.

Barely 15 minutes after the opening, the judge adjourned the trial until Tuesday, when the prosecution is to make its opening address.

But after meeting with his client on Monday, a member of Karadzic's legal team, Marco Sladojevic, told AFP that Karadzic would not be present for Tuesday’s proceedings.

"I don't think he can read a million pages in one night," the lawyer said, echoing Karadzic's argument that he needed more time to study a million pages of prosecution evidence and hundreds of witness statements.


Sladojevic also stressed that Karadzic "will never accept any imposed counsel" as demanded by prosecutor Hildegard Uertz-Retzlaff, who argued it was the only way to stop Karadzic's efforts to "frustrate the proceedings".

A new hurdle in a 14-year legal battle

The latest hurdle in the extraordinary 14-year struggle to bring the perpetrators of Europe’s worst war crimes since the Holocaust to justice came last week, when Karadzic announced that he would boycott the start of the trial because he had not been given sufficient time to prepare for the case.

In his opening statements Monday, Kwon said the court could impose a defence lawyer on Karadzic, among other measures, should he display "consistently obstructive behaviour".

Reporting from The Hague shortly before the start of the trial, FRANCE 24 correspondent Cyril Vanier explained that there were very few precedents for the power struggle between the judges and Karadzic, and that it was now up to those judges to figure out a way forward.

Fourteen years after the end of the Bosnian war, Karadzic faces 11 charges, including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, for the massacre of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys at the UN-protected enclave of Srebrenica in July 1995 and the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that ended in November 1995 in which some 10,000 people were killed.

Karadzic denies all the charges and faces life in jail.

The judges’ options

Karadzic was arrested on a Belgrade bus in July last year, posing as a bearded alternative healer, after 13 years on the run.

He is the most high-profile suspect to enter the dock of the tribunal since his erstwhile ally Slobodan Milosevic, who died in March 2006 mid-way through his own genocide trial.

The view of the Karadzic trial from Bosnia

According to Vanier, the challenge of this trial will not be to prove that the crimes occurred, but rather "to establish a direct line, a direct chain of command between what happened and Mr. Karadzic".

As suggested by Kwon on Monday, the judges may impose counsel to represent the former Bosnian Serb leader. They could appoint an entirely new lawyer who would lead Karadzic’s defence, though a delay would be inevitable in order to allow the lawyer to review the facts of the case.

Or judges could assign one of the defence attorneys who have already been advising Karadzic at The Hague. Karadzic, however, has said he would not agree to that.

Survivors react

Survivors of the war reacted angrily to Monday's adjournment.

62-year-old Munira Subasic, who lost loved ones in Srebenica, told AFP that, "It feels like they are being killed all over again."

Another woman exclaimed after the postponement: "We travelled 2,000 kilometres to be here and waited 15 years and now the trial is delayed!"

The hearing is set to continue at 14:15pm (1315 GMT) on Tuesday with prosecutor Alan Tieger making an opening statement. Kwon did not specify whether Tuesday's session would go ahead if Karadzic continued his boycott.

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