Will Karadzic's genocide trial redeem The Hague?
The Bosnian Serb leader's arrival at the UN war crimes court offers it a second chance after the inconclusive trial of Slobodan Milosevic.
After evading arrest for 12 years, the self-styled Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic will appear at the Hague tribunal Thursday. There, he will say whether he is innocent or guilty of masterminding a war in Europe that set ethnic Slavs against each other, creating death squads, 1.8 million refugees, and hate and divisions in the former Yugoslavia that have not yet ended.Skip to next paragraph
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The prosecution at the first international war crimes court since Nuremberg hopes that the trial will fully clarify what happened in the worst theater of the 1990s Balkan wars – Bosnia – and that it will lead to a clear conviction of genocide.
This time, the tribunal is determined not to be stymied by a wily defendant. After a torturous and inconclusive four-year trial of Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic, marked by delays, obstinacy, grandstanding political harangues, and finally Mr. Milosevic's 2006 death in a Hague cell – the Karadzic trial is seen as a second chance for the tribunal to convict a leader at the apex of responsibility.
"All that has gone before is a dress rehearsal," says Mirko Klarin, a Serb documentary producer who has covered the tribunal daily since its inception in 1993. "The evidence presented at the tribunal for genocide in [six Bosnian cities] is available. In Karadzic, they have the main link between Milosevic and Serbs in Bosnia."
For the right-wing Serbs who support Karadzic, the trial will be about defending Serb honor, and trying to change the story of Bosnia they say has been promoted by a world media biased against them. Karadzic has said he wants to conduct his own trial, as Milosevic did, but he has a legal team in Belgrade – the "International Committee for the Truth about Radovan Karadzic" – backing him up.
Seeing Karadzic at the Hague is a moment of great joy in many justice circles. Some in the decade-old movement for war tribunals who desire new standards for thinking about the rule of law (which began with the Yugoslav tribunal) say the Karadzic delivery to the Hague offers some real-world lessons.
"Karadzic's trial will change the world's perception of the role of justice in the peace process," argues Paul Williams, legal adviser to the Bosnian government during the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords. "It will reveal that it is not possible to forever negotiate with those who are committing genocide."
For Serge Brammertz, new chief prosecutor of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the challenge will be to work efficiently in what he told reporters Wednesday is "a complex legal trial ... in a short period ... with many questions about facts behind the crimes."
Mr. Brammertz, a Belgian who replaced the tough-minded and flamboyant Swiss prosecutor Carla del Ponte in January, praised the Serbian government of Boris Tadic in last week's capture of Karadzic, who had been posing incognito in Belgrade before his handover to The Hague early Wednesday.
Brammertz refused to say when the trial might start, or how long his review of the Karadzic indictment, last amended in 2000, would take, but said the tribunal has new evidence from subsequent trials that it is "up to the judges to permit." He echoed the European Union's call to turn over Gen. Ratko Mladic, Karadzic's main military commander, with whom Karadzic shares 11 charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.