Feature

International justice: An accused war criminal fights back

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who is defending himself at his war crimes trial in The Hague, failed to show up on the first day of the trial.

The “cat and mouse game” has begun, said David Charter in the London Times. On what was supposed to be the first day of his war crimes trial this week in The Hague, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic mocked the court by refusing to show up. Karadzic was president of the Bosnian Serb mini state from 1992 to 1995, when Bosnian Serb forces conducted a campaign of mass murder, torture, and rape as they tried to drive all non-Serbs out of the country. Arrested last year after 13 years on the lam, Karadzic stands accused of atrocities not seen in Europe since the Nazi era, including the creation of concentration camps and the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica. But will justice be served? Karadzic this week demanded a delay, saying he needs at least eight more months to prepare his defense. Such “obstructionist tactics” were pioneered by former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic at his own war crimes trial a few years ago. Milosevic “strung out proceedings for more than four years” through frequent medical absences and “courtroom histrionics”—and ultimately died of a heart attack before a verdict was reached.

Let’s hope the international tribunal has “learned from its mistakes in the Milosevic case,” said Hans van Zon in the Netherlands’ Algemeen Dagblad. First, the Milosevic trial took way too long. Prosecutors spent three years after his arrest just gathering evidence and outlining a whopping 66 charges. This time, at least, prosecutors have managed to get the case against Karadzic together in just a year. Still, they’ve assembled more than 1 million pages of evidence, which gives Karadzic ammunition to argue that he needs more time to go over this “Mount Everest of paper.” The biggest mistake of the Milosevic trial—allowing the defendant to grandstand, spouting his wacky theories about Western conspiracies—will be hard to avoid in the Karadzic proceedings. Karadzic, like Milosevic, is conducting his own defense and will have ample opportunity to drone on.

It should be quite a show, said Norbert Mappes-Niediek in Germany’s Frankfurter Rundschau. Karadzic is an “accomplished actor.” A psychiatrist by training, he first became famous as “therapist to the elite” of Yugoslavia. Later he played the grand politician, receiving former President Jimmy Carter at his palace in Pale, Bosnia, in 1994. After the war, while on the run from an international arrest warrant, he rediscovered his early calling as a poet, churning out a book of nationalist doggerel. When he was discovered in Serbia last year, he had been posing as a New Age faith healer, complete with wild mane and beard. “For years, he’s been dreaming of a starring role like the one he’s about to get in court.”

He has to show up first, said Sabine Cessou in France’s Liberation. The tribunal is not going along with Karadzic’s “empty chair” routine. The prosecution has already begun presenting its case, reading out transcripts of phone calls in which he vowed to make Bosnian Muslims “disappear from the face of the earth.” While the court is unlikely to slap handcuffs on him and “compel him by force” to appear, it will probably appoint a lawyer to represent Karadzic against his will. This trial is going ahead—“with or without the accused.”

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