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.
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Karadzic is considered special for a number of reasons. He formed and headed a political party that made Serbian superiority its main ideology. He will be tried as the political architect of an "ethnic cleansing" project to rid vast areas of Bosnia of non-Serbs.Skip to next paragraph
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Unlike military indictees on trial for giving orders or participating in killing, Karadzic will face evidence that he created the atmosphere for killing, including the crucial role of propaganda, and that he was key to spreading the intent to conduct genocide. As one legal source put it, he "dreamed up the software for the killing." In cases of genocide, the prosecutor must prove intent. In Karadzic's case, there are countless TV clips, recordings, interviews, and other direct statements made from his headquarters in Pale.
While Karadzic's Belgrade lawyer has said that he plans to defend himself at The Hague, Brammertz, on Wednesday said he planned to lodge an objection to "two presentations" – a reference to a painful lesson from the Milosevic trial.
Milosevic 'mesmerized' tribunal
Milosevic prevailed upon the Hague court to conduct his own defense. Yet tribunal judges felt he needed a lawyer to help him prepare the complex case. Often, Milosevic would offer a political diatribe perhaps intended for Belgrade TV, but legally useless in a trial.
One of the three panel judges would then turn to the Tribunal-appointed lawyer for clarification, resulting in long hours in which the court essentially heard "two presentations." Milosevic never acknowledged the backup lawyer; the court suffered serious criticism for being manipulated by Milosevic, or as one Balkan reporter put it, "mesmerized by him."
"The tribunal is a forum for justice, not a soap box for politics," says Mr. Williams. "It is fine if Karadzic wants to defend himself. But he has to make it a legal defense. The court will learn from the Milosevic experience, and as in the Saddam Hussein trial, the judges will probably be tough this time."
When Milosevic died, lawyers at the tribunal seemed to be dealt a public relations blow, and there's been a sense among judges and prosecutors that the tribunal and indeed the war often seems a distant sideshow to current world events. Still, the body has racked up a serious legal track record since it began in 1993, experts say. Only two of 161 indicted remain at large. Some 56 accused have been convicted. The 27 trials now under way include that of Vojislav Seselj, head of the Serbian Radical Party, whose members brought street protests and police clashes in Belgrade this week, hours before Karadzic's extradition. In 2001, Bosnian Serb army chief, Radislav Krstic, was convicted of genocide by the tribunal, a charged later lessened to aiding and abetting genocide.
The tribunal is considered the inspiration for the Rwanda and Sierra Leone war crimes trials, and as bringing about the International Criminal Court, which just indicted Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir for genocide in Darfur.
Karadzic 'mentally very strong'
Karadzic's cell is located in a suburban prison described by former detainees as small but pleasant, with accused war criminals from Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, and Croatia often chatting together and fixing meals. One Hague insider said it was doubtful Karadzic will accept Milosevic's cell, "since he's a bit superstitious."
Svetozar Vujacic, Karadzic's Belgrade lawyer described his client in recent days as "morally and mentally very strong.... He told me he was a great optimist that truth and justice will win, and that he trusts in God."