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Karadzic boycotts own trial

Will the Yugoslav court allow Radovan Karadzic to employ the same tactics used by Slobodan Milosevic? Court will reconvene Tuesday.

By Staff writer / October 26, 2009

A view of the empty seat where Radovan Karadzic was supposed to sit when attending the start of his trial at the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, on Monday.

Peter Dejong/AP


The Hague

With Bosnian mothers from Srebrenica shouting from the steps outside, the opening day of Radovan Karadzic's much anticipated war crimes trial lasted just 25 minutes. The Bosnian Serb leader accused of genocide and war crimes did not appear, as he earlier warned, saying he needed more time to prepare. He was apprehended 15 months ago, on a Belgrade bus in July 2008, posing as a bearded new age healer named Dragan Dabic.

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"In light of the absence of the accused ... the chamber will adjourn ... until 2:15 p.m. tomorrow," said Chief Judge O-Gon Kown of South Korea. "We request Mr. Karadzic to attend so that his trial is not further obstructed."

Options appear limited to giving Karadzic more time, or appointing a legal counsel that he says he doesn't want, and that could prove disruptive in court. So far, no defendant in the 13-year-old Yugoslav tribunal has been forcibly seated.

The trial of Karadzic, accused of being the key architect and leader of four years of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, started at 9 a.m. in Courtroom 1 of the Yugoslav tribunal, with prosecutor Hildegard Uertz-Retzlaff arguing that the judges should appoint a lawyer, "an imposition of counsel," in order to avoid obstructing the trial.

"There is no reason today not to start the trial," she said, adding that it was folly for the chamber to adopt a position that "the trial can only start if the accused says it should," and listing off numerous concessions that the prosecution has allowed, including only two or three days a week of court hearings prior to Christmas and sharing with Karadzic the prosecution's witness list through next February. She notes that the first two months of initial "victim" witnesses will require little effort to prepare cross-examination.

Paul Williams of the Public International Law and Policy group in Washington says there has been a team of "stand by counsels" that have been working on the Karadzic defense for at least four or five months.

Not another 'circus' trial

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is under great pressure not to allow the Karadzic proceeding to devolve into the theatrics seen during the four-year trial of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic – who also insisted on defending himself, talked back to the judges, and was given great leniency and stoppages in order that the trial be considered fair.

Analysts say that Karadzic's strategy, like Milosevic's, may be to create such troubles and snafus that the main story of a tribunal set up to create a clear and impartial record of the 1991 war, and to bring justice to the victims – becomes instead focused on the antics and legal wrangling of the accused. Critics of the Milosevic trial say that it deteriorated into such game-playing that the grave charges and the content of the trial often seemed to be forgotten or take a secondary role.