Karadzic Boycotts Start Of War Crimes Trial

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A war crimes trial began Monday in The Hague for Radovan Karadzic, who led the Bosnian Serbs through a three-year civil war. He went into hiding after the war to escape arrest, but was finally seized last year, and he faces 11 count of war crimes. Karadzic boycotted the opening of the trial, he is representing himself.


A war crimes trial in the Hague today was years in the making. Radovan Karadzic was the Bosnian Serb leader during the war in Bosnia. That conflict from 1992 to �95 included mass killings and charges of genocide. Karadzic went into hiding after the war. He was finally arrested last year and now faces 11 counts of war crime.


Or he was supposed to. On the opening day of his trial this morning, Karadzic failed to appear, forcing the trial to be adjourned until tomorrow. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli has more from the Hague.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Since Karadzic arrived here 14 months ago, he has filed some 270 motions. In the latest, last week, he said: My defense is not ready. He demanded 10 more months and announced he wouldn't be in court today. It's not clear whether Karadzic, acting as his own lawyer, will boycott the entire trial. There's a specter hanging over the tribunal. It failed to bring to conclusion the trial of former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, who died in jail in 2006, four years into his trial.

Richard Dicker heads the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch.

Mr. RICHARD DICKER (Human Rights Watch): There is a stain coming out of the problems from the Milosevic trial and this is the chance for the tribunal to show they have done some lessons learned and are better able to conduct a trial against a senior, prominent, well-known accused who is seeking to represent himself.

POGGIOLI: The biggest problems posed by the Milosevic trial were the defendants' self-representation and the massive number of counts in the indictment. The prosecution in this trial streamlined its witness list, but it will still focus on the scope of the atrocities, starting with the siege of Sarajevo, which killed more than 10,000 people, and ending with the massacre of about 8,000 unarmed Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995. The trial is expected to continue into 2012.

The 64-year-old Karadzic was raised by a Serb nationalist family. A psychiatrist by training, he specialized in depression, and he's an amateur poet with a dark streak. In 1992, he led a Bosnian Serb splinter state to war. In 1996 he went into hiding. When arrested in July last year in Belgrade, he emerged with a completely different look. The stern, pompous wartime leader had been replaced by a long-haired and white-bearded mystic specializing in New Age healing practices.

But Richard Dicker says that despite the time passed since the war, the opening of the Karadzic trial sends a strong message.

Mr. DICKER: It's been 15 years since Srebrenica. He hid for more than a decade, and yet the message is: you can run, you can hide, but you cannot run out the clock when it comes to potential criminal responsibility for ethnic cleansing, mass slaughter of civilians, the use of rape as a weapon of war.

POGGIOLI: But many Bosnian Muslims say the tribunal has not provided justice for the victims, and with the passage of time, many survivors of the war say this trial is coming too late.

In Serbia, the tribunal has consistently been viewed as anti-Serb. Political analyst Bratza Grubictic(ph) says there's little interest in the Karadzic trial. Cooperation with the tribunal is seen as the price Serbia has to pay to be accepted back into the West.

Mr. BRATZA GRUBICTIC (Political Analyst): Most Serbs see it as a sort of unnecessary thing that has to happen if you want to join European Union in developing and prosperity, not something like reconciliation or defining what's happening in the former Yugoslavia during the wartime.

POGGIOLI: But Serbia's full return into the western community is not likely to happen until it hands over the major war crimes suspect still in hiding: former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, the Hague.

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