Bosnia & Herzegovina: Karadžić in The Hague

A few days after Radovan Karadžić's arrest in Belgrade was announced on the 21st of July, his supporters started protesting against his transfer to the ICTY in The Hague, both in the streets and in Facebook (in various groups such as Free Radovan Karadžić, Freedom for Radovan Karadžić or many others). On the 29th of July the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) organized a rally that was attended by around 15,000 people and that ended up in violent clashes between some of the demonstrators and the riot police leaving 47 people injured.

Riot police in Belgrade after the protests of the 29th of July
(Photo by Jonathan Davis, used under a Creative Commons license)

LimbicNutrition Weblog liveblogged the protests and posted a series of photos of the aftermath of the riots and the damages caused by it. He described the clashes as follows:

It all happened very fast, with a group of hooligans spotting a relatively isolated unit of riot police, putting on masks and attacking.
I think the incident could have been prevented by a more organised police response. The police were deployed side-on to the advancing hooligans (lining the road), and it took their commander way too long to order them to redeploy as a phalanx (lined up across the road).

Eric Gordy of East Ethnia considered the protests to be “a failure in every respect”:

The turnout was low, the speeches were bad, the goals were not clearly stated, and the organisers failed to control the crowd. This is probably also why speakers were chosen from the D-list of Serbian politics: luminaries like Kosta Čavoški and Bora Đorđević.

[…] the only element of the meeting that made news was the violent confrontation between skinheads and police, who this time around did not have orders to let the hooligans destroy anything they wanted.

Whilst the protests were taking place in the streets of Belgrade, the Serbian government was preparing to fly Radovan Karadžić out of the country to The Hague. According to Byzantine Blog, his transfer was to take place at 10pm but was delayed until around 3:45 a.m. Wednesday because the “pilot of the Serbian Government's air fleet assigned the task to fly Dr. Karadžić to be delivered to the Hague, refused to fly the plane and assist in delivering” him.

Radovan Karadžić's initial appearance in the ICTY for an arraignment was scheduled for Thursday 31st at 4pm, during which he confirmed his identity and heard the judge read the charges against him, as described by the Srebrenica Genocide Blog:

Gaunt and visibly shaken, Karadzic listened as the Dutch UN Judge Alphons Orie read out a chilling list of atrocities contained in a lengthy 25-page indictment of war crimes, including including: genocide, complicity in genocide, crimes against humanity, extermination, violation of the customs of war, murder and the taking of hostages. Karadzic declined to enter a plea to the 11 charges against him.

Besides deferring to enter a plea, in this initial hearing Karadžić indicated that he would represent himself (like Milošević did). He has a further 30 days in which to enter a plea, and Judge Orie set the 29th of August for the next hearing. Moreover, the prosecution indicated that it intends to file an amended indictment, because of changes to the law and to the evidence available since the original indictment was last ammended in 2000.

Fedja of the blog Rants of a hyphenated researcher didn't appreciate this postponement:

Even though they had 13 years to prepare a polished, proof-read indictment against Karadzic, the prosecution said today that it would “amend” the indictment, giving Karadzic 30 extra days to enter a plea! Just to enter a plea! And this was not even something Karadzic had orchestrated. It was the prosecution handing him extra time on a golden plate.

Screen capture from the ICTY's livestream of Karadžić's initial court hearing

Karadžić also claimed that he had been seized and held by “unknown civilians” three days before the official arrest date given to the court, and referred to an alleged deal made with Richard Holbrooke, the former US ambassador to the United Nations. Eric Gordy of East Ethnia, describes Karadžić's claims:

[…] he felt he had been protected by an agreement he had made in 1996 with Richard Holbrooke, who was then the US envoy overseeing the negotiation and implementation of the Dayton agreement in Bosnia-Hercegovina. As the story goes, the offer was made to Karadžić that if he were to withdraw from public life, in return for this the United States would either (in some versions) see to it that he would not be pursued and arrested or (in more dramatic versions) see to it that the charges against him would be withdrawn.

The US State Department denies that there was an agreement, as does Richard Holbrooke. But of course denials do not tell us anything about factual states, merely what somebody would prefer for us to believe. All the same, there is as yet no convincing evidence (say, a copy of the signed agreement) that would definitively tell us there was an agreement.

And, after analyzing some of the known facts about the ending of the war, Gordy concludes:

So my conclusion is that maybe Richard Holbrooke did make some promises to Radovan Karadžić. If he did, it was a mildly clever way of influencing a gullible megalomaniac. It never could have any legal force, neither in preventing Serbia from arresting Karadžić nor in preventing the UN from trying him.

Although the judge interrupted Karadžić's allegations as not belonging to the initial hearing, he advised him to submit them in writing. The 4-page letter that Karadžić submitted with the title “Irregularities linked to my arrival before the tribunal,” was then published on the ICTY's website.

By bringing up the alleged “Holbrooke deal,” the blog Finding Karadžić analizes Karadžić's litigation strategy to be the following:

Karadzic's claim is one of de facto immunity, where an accused asserts that they took action to their detriment in reliance upon a promise not to prosecute them.

Karadzic will be entitled to call Mr. Holbrooke as a witness. He can call other witnesses, if there are any, to try to bolster this claim of a grant of immunity.

The burden is on Karadzic to clearly prove the existence of such an agreeement. When Mr. Holbrooke takes the stand and says that none existed, Karadzic has not met his burden. Based on everything the Karadzic family has talked about regarding Mr. Holbrooke over the last several years, there are no witnesses to this conversation between Holbrooke and Karadzic.

So, Karadzic loses this motion about immunity.

The best thing he could do for himself would be to cobble together a experienced team of criminal defense attorneys to attack the evidence and witnesses on the 11 charges. If not, Karadzic's immunity motion will quickly fail and evidence against Karadzic will be enough to overwhelmingly establish his guilt on most of the charges.

YakimaGulagLitteraryGazett commented on the court appearance, which she watched on TV from her home in Sarajevo:

Karadžić looked tired, but he said his health was perfect. He also accused Holbrook of trying to kill him, and had lots to say about the alleged irregularities of his arrest. Funny how tyrants turn into avid civil libertarians!
He had far more due process than anyone in Srebenica!

Writer Jasmina Tešanović, watching the court appearance from Belgrade, also gave her impressions at the blog BoingBoing:

The general opinion in Serbia is how old, how white and how distracted he now seems, alone, without soldiers, lawyers or family members. He declares himself as member of three states, Republika Srpska, where he lived, Montenegro where he was born, and Serbia where he lived under cover with different identities.

He is the veteran of one of the greatest put-up jobs in the history of world crime, and he declares that he was hiding in order to save his life. He says his life was guaranteed to him by the Dayton treaty and by Richard Holbrooke, in exchange for his stepping down from politics.

Karadžić seemed calmly determined to act in his own defense, demanding the return of his laptop, formerly in possession of Dragan Dabić. That computer is now in the hands of the police together with various official documents from Republika Srpska.

His judges say that the indictment against Karadžić will be altered and focused. Basically it charges him with practically every crime that the court in the Hague was built to try.

We are eager to see him handle all his legacies with all his identities.

Nidžara Ahmetašević from Sarajevo expressed her hopes for Karadžić's trial at the BalkanInsight blog:

I believe that justice exists. I am positive about that. And I want to see it […] I want this to happen because of all those who did nothing to stop him.

I hope I shall be able to hear, during the trial, about the reasons of the war and why my best friends are those who I met in the war and not in peace. I hope that his arrest means the war is coming to its end and that peace may even come as well.


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