Artful dodger



The quest to bring to justice those who masterminded the ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims during the 1992-95 wars in the Balkans has moved another step forward. The trial of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has begun at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. The trial is the most high-profile since that of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Karadzic faces 11 counts of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and other atrocities in the Bosnian war. This includes his alleged role in the shelling of Sarajevo during the 44-month-long siege of the city, in which around 12,000 civilians were killed. He is also said to have ordered the massacre of 7,000 Bosniak men in Srebrenica. Until a year ago, it did seem that getting Karadzic to face justice was impossible. For years he enjoyed the protection of the Serbian leadership and remained in hiding. It was only in July 2008 that his luck finally ran out. He was arrested in Belgrade. If convicted he faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

But the sentencing of Karadzic is still a long way off. There are early signs that the trial will not be a smooth process. Karadzic, who has said he would like to plead his own case, has refused to show up at the trial. He claims he needs more time to prepare his case. Indeed, he has over around 1.2 million pages of prosecution evidence and statements of hundreds of witnesses to read. Judges at the ICTY are keen to complete the trial by 2012. It may be recalled that Milosevic had engaged in endless delaying tactics too during his trial. The trial ended without a verdict when the Serb leader died suddenly in 2006, dealing a severe blow to the pursuit of justice. It is likely that the Karadzic is hoping to avoid a verdict as well.
The ICTY must ensure that Karadzic’s trial does not go down the Milosevic route. But in trying to speed up the trial judges must preserve legal fairness. The wounds of war are yet to heal in the Balkans. And a trial especially that of someone like Karadzic who still enjoys immense popularity among Bosnian Serbs, that is perceived as unfair, will only reopen the wounds. The ICTY must tread carefully.

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