Karadzic trial revives Bosnian hopes for justice

July 26, 2008 11:41:38 AM PDT
Sabaheta Fejzic felt cheated when Slobodan Milosevic, on trial for Balkan atrocities, died in his cell before his judges could reach a verdict. Instead of delivering quick justice, the trial at the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague had dragged on for more than four years before the ousted Serbian president suffered a heart attack on March 11, 2006.

Fejzic's husband and only child, a 16-year-old son, were among 8,000 Muslim men and boys murdered by Serb forces in and around the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in July 1995. The arrest last week of Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader, offers her the hope that at least one of the alleged architects of Europe's worst atrocities since World War II will finally meet justice.

"I, as a victim, appeal to the Hague Tribunal to issue a verdict as soon as possible because we are afraid of another Milosevic situation - that his life is shorter than his trial," she told The Associated Press in Sarajevo. "May he (Karadzic) receive a lifelong prison term and may he live long and be healthy."

Karadzic's capture may help change perceptions of the tribunal among those who suffered under him and his military commander Gen.

Ratko Mladic, said Diane Orentlicher of the Open Society Justice Initiative, a group that promotes law reform and human rights.

For Bosnians, all the court's actions over 15 years "were in the shadow of Karadzic and Mladic - meaning as long as those two people had escaped justice almost nothing else the tribunal had accomplished could take away what they had suffered," said Orentlicher, the group's general counsel.

The court has convicted dozens of war criminals and pronounced the Srebrenica massacre a genocide. It also has established crucial jurisprudence for other international courts.

But critics say Milosevic's trial was meandering, unfocused, and gave the defendant a political platform.

Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice program at New York-based Human Rights Watch, said prosecutors, judges and Milosevic himself share blame for the case dragging on.

"I think the office of the prosecutor erred in going forward with a trial that involved 66 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. That is an enormous amount of material to plead and prove in court," he said.

Milosevic's illnesses forced several lengthy recesses, and some tribunal officials suspect he was manipulating his health by taking drugs to justify his demand to be treated in Moscow.

The judges repeatedly refused that demand, but "made every effort, and then some, to see that Mr. Milosevic was treated fairly before the tribunal," Dicker said.

Milosevic was allowed to conduct his own defense, and "misused his right to self-representation in an effort to rewrite history and his role in the history of the Balkans," he said.

Milosevic dismissed his indictment as "a sum of unscrupulous manipulation, lies, crippling of the law, and an unjust presentation of the history."

"What the Serbs did," Milosevic said, "was only making up for what the Muslims and the Croats took away from them."

Belgrade lawyer Sveta Vujacic has indicated Karadzic also plans to conduct his own defense, raising the specter of a repeat of Milosevic's courtroom antics.

But it gives the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia a chance to avoid the pitfalls of the Milosevic case.

Karadzic's trial probably won't begin before next year, but it should move faster because his 11-count indictment is much shorter than Milosevic's, which spanned crimes in Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia as his forces sought to carve out a "Greater Serbia" from the wreckage of the former Yugoslavia.

Karadzic's indictment focuses only on Bosnia, where he led the breakaway Serb entity he christened Republika Srpska during the 1992-95 war. Prosecutors say that together with Mladic, Karadzic plotted campaigns of ethnic cleansing to drive Muslims and Croats out of parts of Bosnia they believed should be attached to Serbia.

Karadzic also is more closely implicated in the abuses in Bosnia, Orentlicher said, meaning it should be easier to convict him.

"There's a mountain of evidence prosecutors will be able to draw on to prove his personal criminal responsibility," she said.

"It is not as challenging legally as Milosevic's case was."


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