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Former Bosnian-Serb Political Leader Trial to Resume in Early March


Wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic appears in court for the International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague, 03 Nov 2009

Wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic appears in court for the International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague, 03 Nov 2009

Former Bosnian-Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic is being tried before the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Former Bosnian-Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic is being tried before the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia was established by the U.N. Security Council in May 1993 to prosecute those accused of atrocities stemming from the 1992-1995 Bosnia conflict. An estimated 100,000 people were killed and two million were displaced.

This was the first time that a war crimes tribunal was set up since leaders of Nazi Germany were prosecuted at the Nuremberg trials (1945-1949) and Japanese officials at the Tokyo trials (1946-1948).

A former legal adviser to the Bosnian government, Paul Williams, says unlike the Nuremburg and Tokyo trials, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia was created during wartime.

"This was, in a sense, a last effort by the international community to find a way to resolve the conflict in Yugoslavia," he said. "Early on in the conflict, they had deployed peacekeepers, they had imposed an arms embargo, an economic embargo, a no-fly zone - nothing was working."

"The last thing on the list was 'Let us try a war crimes tribunal.' And that is how we had a resurrection of the Nuremberg and Tokyo style tribunals. It is because they had run out of all other options and they thought 'Let us try justice', to see if that can somehow have an impact on the peace process," he added.

Each case at the Yugoslav tribunal is heard by a panel of three judges and the verdict is reached by a majority vote. The verdict can be appealed to be heard by a different three-judge panel. The maximum sentence is life imprisonment.

The most high-profile case to date was that of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, accused of genocide.

Alex Whitting, former prosecutor at the ICTY, says Milosevic's death in March 2006 while in detention was a blow to the court.

"The trial had been going on for four years and it was literally months away from its conclusion," he said. "And of course Milosevic was at the time the most important, most significant defendant to appear before the tribunal. So there is no denying that it was a blow."

"At the same time the court had at the time and has continued to have many other cases. At the tribunal there have been 161 individuals who have been charged. The cases against 120 accused have been completed and that has included numerous trials and guilty pleas against defendants from Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. So while it was a blow, it was far from a death blow," he continued.

Now the most high-profile defendant before the international tribunal is Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian-Serb political leader. He was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008 and extradited to The Hague. His trial began last month.

Karadzic faces 11 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes stemming from the 1992-95 Bosnia civil war. He and Bosnian-Serb military leader General Ratko Mladic, who is still at large, are accused of ordering what is considered to be the worst atrocity in Europe since the Second World War: the massacre of an estimated 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the U.N.-protected Srebrenica enclave in July 1995.

"There has been enormous discussion about what responsibility the West had for failing to protect the Bosnian-Muslim men and boys from attack by the Serb forces," said Alex Whitting. "The reality is that while of course everybody wishes that Western forces had done more, the fact is that there was a very small Western contingent, largely Dutch soldiers, who were present and probably too small to really manage the situation. And of course, in retrospect, everybody wishes that there had been more of a Western force there and more had been done to stop the Serbs."

Lawyer Paul Williams says it is difficult to prove genocide.

"Because you have to prove an intent to destroy a group, a people - religious, ethnic, some type of identity as a group - in whole or in part," he said. "And the intent element is what is difficult. However, a handful of individuals have been found guilty by the Yugoslav Tribunal for genocide. And so there is this notion that it is genocide, it is just a question of who in the leadership was responsible."

Radovan Karadzic wanted to defend himself, but the court provided him with a lawyer. His trial has been adjourned until early March, to give more time to the defense to prepare its case.

Many experts say the trial of Karadzic will be crucial to the credibility of the international tribunal. They say the proceedings must be seen as fair and the court must not allow Karadzic to make a mockery of the trial.

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