Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic was transferred to the Dutch-based UN war crimes tribunal's detention centre near The Hague. Prosecutor Serge Brammertz said it would be months before his trial begins, France24 reports.
Radovan Karadzic, former leader of the Bosnian Serbs, was transferred to the detention unit of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) shortly before 8am local time after an overnight transfer from Belgrade.
“It’s a big step for the tribunal in terms of our ability to accomplish our mandate, a big step for international justice,” ICTY spokesperson Nerma Jelacic told FRANCE 24.
Karadzic will make his initial appearance before the war crimes court in The Hague on Thursday to enter a plea on genocide charges, the tribunal's chief prosecutor said.
During his initial appearance in court, Karadzic will be able plead guilty, not guilty or plead for more time to decide, according to FRANCE 24’s Cyril Vanier in The Hague. He will also be asked whether or not he wishes to represented by a lawyer.
According to Jean-Arnault Derens, chief editor of the Courrier des Balkans and author of Balkans, la mosaïque brisée (The Balkans: the shattered mosaic), Karadzic will likely ask for more time to build his defense and will probably choose not be represented by a lawyer. “Karadzic believes the ICTY is illegal and illegitimate,” Derens said, adding, “Accepting representation by a lawyer would amount to recognizing the tribunal.”
Karadizic has been indicted for his role in the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia - notably in connection with the 44-month siege of Sarajevo and the massacre of Muslim males in Srebrenica in July 1995.
A lengthy and complicated trial ahead
Regardless of how Karadzic pleads on Thursday, the trial itself will not get under way immediately. “The defense and the prosecution will not be ready for another couple of months,” said the chief prosecutor of the ICTY, Serge Brammertz, during a press conference at the Hague on Wednesday. Read FRANCE 24's international correspondent Robert Parsons' comment on the complex trial ahead.
“The charges brought against Karadzic are very heavy and include crimes against humanity,” explains Dejan Anastasijevic, journalist for Vreme in Belgrade, “we can expect a lengthy and complicated trial.” The trial of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic had trailed on for four years until he died in 2006.
However, Anastasijevic notes that Bosnian Serb general Radislav Krstic was convicted in 2001 for genocide for the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslims men and boys in Srebrenica. The ICTY has therefore set a precedent and established that genocide – a crime difficult to prove – took place in Srebrenica. “Karadzic was the president of the Bosnian Serb state at the time,” says Anastasijevic, “The prosecution will no doubt seek to convince the court he was responsible for what his forces were doing at the time.”
Serbia hands over Karadzic amid demonstrations
Serbia’s justice ministry decided to hand over Karadzic to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague after an appeal apparently filed by Karadzic failed to arrive in the post.
Karadzic’s brother Luka had said that an appeal was posted at a remote post office late on Friday, but the Serbian war crimes court said it had not arrived on time.
Karadzic’s transfer to The Hague came only hours after Serbian riot police clashed with youths in central Belgrade at the end of an ultra-nationalist rally by more than 15,000 people opposed to his arrest.
During the rally, ultranationalist Radical Party leader Tomislav Nikolic heavily criticized the pro-European President Boric Tadic for Karadzic’s arrest. Tadic defeated the nationalists during the presidential elections in February and, according to Anastasijevic, this change of government was “crucial” to Karadzic’s arrest. “Neither Karadzic, nor [Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko] Mladic could have remained at large for so long without the help of the Serb security services.”
The demonstration had rallied far fewer people than the protests in February against the independence of Kosovo which had gathered 150,000 Serbs.
According to FRANCE 24’s Laurent Rouy in Belgrade, “this is a great failure for nationalists, a double failure because some rioters clashed with police at the end of demonstration.” The reputation of the nationalists and ultra-nationalists led by Serbia’s Radical Party has now been tarnished, he says.