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War Crimes Tribunal's Credibility at Stake in Karadzic Trial

The war crimes trial of former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic has again put the spotlight on the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Karadzic has appeared before the court in the Hague twice since he was arrested in Belgrade last July. In this report from Washington, Senior Correspondent André de Nesnera says experts believe the court's credibility is at stake in this high-profile trial.

Radovan Karadzic faces 11 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes stemming from the 1992-95 war in Bosnia. He and Bosnian Serb military leader 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 enclave of Srebrenica in July 1995.

Appearing before the court late last month, Karadzic refused to plead to the charges against him. The presiding judge Iain Bonomy entered a not guilty plea for him on all 11 counts. The court then adjourned and is expected to resume its proceedings against Karadzic later this month.

The highest profile case to date was that of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, also accused of genocide. Milosevic died in detention in March 2006, just months before a verdict was due.

Radovan Karadzic has decided he does not need a lawyer and will represent himself.

Experts such as Paul Williams, former legal adviser to the Bosnian government, say that was a tactic used by Slobodan Milosevic.

"Although we look at the tribunal as a legal mechanism, President Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic look at it as a political platform," he said. "Karadzic has no desire to receive a fair trial, or to have his day in court. He sees that this is his last show."

"And he wants to use the tribunal as a political platform to make his case for his innocence. And I don't mean legal innocence here, I think he believes that he'll be found guilty and sent to prison. He also wants to 'tell his story'. Karadzic sees that he will have a year or so before the tribunal to 'tell his story'. He's been hiding for the last 12 years and now is his chance to say his peace, to say his story," he added.

Analysts say Karadzic must not be allowed to make a mockery of the trial - something Milosevic was able to do very effectively.

Paul Williams and others say Karadzic's trial will be crucial for the credibility of the international court. "The tribunal has a very mixed record. Justice Goldstone [Richard Goldstone: chief prosecutor from 1994-96] was phenomenal in that he came out very early and very aggressively and indicted Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic," he said.

"But then there was a change of regime at the tribunal. Goldstone left and new prosecutors came in and the tribunal became timid and tardy," he said. "It was slow to indict Milosevic, it was slow to exercise its jurisdiction in Kosovo and by many accounts was a failure. It then failed in the Milosevic trial. Now is the time for the tribunal to re-establish its credibility by having an effective and a fair prosecution of Karadzic and to re-establish its role in the peace process."

Experts, such as Charles Kupchan with the Council on Foreign Relations, say bringing to justice indicted war criminals such as Radovan Karadzic, is the first step in the process of reconciliation and healing among the various ethnic groups in the region.

"If you take a somewhat longer time horizon and you say what kind of events are important to communal healing, to collective healing, these apprehensions, these trials, these prosecutions do play an important role even on a personal basis, because there is a sense that justice is being served, there is a sense that those responsible for crimes against humanity are being held accountable," he said.

Kupchan and other experts say the Karadzic trial also sends a powerful message to other leaders indicted for alleged war crimes, that it may take time, but ultimately they will be arrested and face justice for their crimes.