MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris. Radovan Karadzic appeared in court in the Netherlands today. The Bosnian Serb leader is facing charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for his role in the Bosnian War in the 1990s. Judges and court officials at The Hague say they've learned a lesson from the chaotic trial of Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic, as NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Karadzic appeared more self-confident than at his previous appearances. Judge Iain Bonomy began by asking him if he intends to remain alone in his defense. Speaking through an interpreter, the defendant answered with a phrase worthy of Lewis Carroll.
Former President RADOVAN KARADZIC (Bosnia): (Through Translator) I'm never alone, but I am here alone. I have my invisible advisors, but I'm a Gemini, so there are two of us anyway.
POGGIOLI: Striking a more serious note, Karadzic confirmed he intends to act as his own lawyer.
Former President KARADZIC: (Through Translator) And I'm not ready to be a thing here, an object. I'm not prepared to be passive and to have other people decide on matters that concern me.
POGGIOLI: Karadzic once again raised his claim that U.S. peace envoy Richard Holbrooke granted him immunity in exchange for disappearing from the political scene, and thus paving the way to a peace settlement of the Bosnian war. Holbrooke has always denied this claim.
Former President KARADZIC: (Through Translator) It wasn't a private conversation and agreement between myself and Mr. Holbrooke or myself and the United States alone, it was all the permanent members of the security council who are members of the contact group.
POGGIOLI: Judge Bonomy said he and two other judges were studying Karadzic's motions on his claimed immunity deal. But he also warned the defendant not to try to exploit his appearances in court for political purposes.
Judge IAIN BONOMY (Judge of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia): Please don't use this court as a platform for raising issues that don't relate to the matters that are before us here.
POGGIOLI: The judge raised the specter hanging over this tribunal, Slobodan Milosevic, who acted in his own defense and turned that trial into a propaganda exercise. The Milosevic trial ended abruptly when the defendant died in custody in 2006, a whole four years into the proceedings. Many international law experts hope the prosecution has learned from other mistakes at the Milosevic trial, in particular avoiding an overambitious indictment that covers too many crimes and requires too many witnesses.
The current indictment against Karadzic was drafted eight years ago. Since then, many trials here have revealed new evidence. Simon Jennings, an analyst for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, says the tribunal and the prosecution faced a dilemma, whether to avoid another Milosevic trial by streamlining the indictment to focus on only some specific crimes, or whether to use this occasion to explore fully all aspects of the war in Bosnia, including Karadzic's links to Milosevic and the possibility of Western promises to the defendant.
Mr. SIMON JENNINGS (Reporter, Institute for War and Peace Reporting): This is the one trial we have, the Karadzic trial. The chances aren't necessarily very high of having another opportunity to explore all these issues and have them laid out in front of a courtroom. And it would only seem right that now they are fully discussed, debated, argued out in a court of law and the truth of everyone's involvement established.
POGGIOLI: Jennings and other international law experts say this could be the last chance for the war crimes tribunal to restore its prestige. Silvia Poggioli, NPR News, The Hague.
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