Radovan Karadžić faces verdicts in war crimes trial at The Hague
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A tribunal at The Hague is passing judgment on Radovan Karadžić in one of the most anticipated war crimes trial verdicts in since Nuremberg.
has begun to hear verdicts on 11 charges against the wartime leader of the Bosnian Serbs, including two counts of genocide.
Dozens of have travelled to The Hague for the judgment. Karadžić and his successors in the current Bosnian Serb leadership have shrugged off individual and collective blame for the crimes.
Karadžić’s lawyer and legal observers predicted he would be , which include genocide, crimes against humanity and hostage taking. Were this the case, he would face a life sentence.
Rival activists gathered in The Hague on Thursday morning. Under a grey morning sky, survivors and the families of victims of the many war crimes of the conflict, assembled on a patch of grass outside the tribunal with banners and photographs of the dead. Serb supporters of Karadžić were expected to arrive later. Some were seen driving through The Hague on Wednesday night, with Serb folk music blaring from their car windows. There were unconfirmed reports of several busloads of Karadžić supporters arriving overnight.
In an unexpected and dramatic development on Thursday morning, Florence Hartmann, a former spokeswoman for the ICTY prosecutor’s office, was detained by UN police. In 2011 Hartmann was found guilty by the tribunal appeal chamber of contempt and fined for using confidential tribunal documents for a memoir of her time at the court. The fine was later converted into a week-long prison sentence and an arrest warrant issued, but her home country, France, refused to extradite her. When she appeared outside the court building, she was approached by UN police and the Bosnian demonstrators attempted to close ranks around her to prevent her being detained, but later the police were able to bring her into the tribunal building and dragged her through the lobby as she shouted protests against her treatment.
The verdicts constitute the most important moment in the 23-year existence of the ICTY. The chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, said it embodied the tribunal’s achievement in ending impunity for crimes on a mass scale.
“This judgment demonstrates that justice for the most horrific atrocities is possible,” Brammertz told the Guardian. “Thirty years ago, men such as Karadžić would have remained in power or enjoyed a comfortable exile. Today, they have to stand before a court of justice and their victims and be judged for what they have done.”
Karadžić portrayed himself as constantly striving to limit the bloodshed when he was president of the breakaway Republika Srpska while it was “ethnically cleansed” of Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) and Croats, through mass killings, systematic rape and other forms of terror.
“It is very simple to see from all the evidence that the president, in such circumstances, couldn’t do any more, and that my permanent fight to preserve the peace, prevent the war and decrease the sufferings of everyone regardless of religion were an exemplary effort deserving respect rather than persecution,” the 70-year-old former psychiatrist and writer with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network from his cell at Scheveningen on the Dutch coast, where he has been held .
Karadžić admitted civilians had been killed in Srebrenica in 1995, when 8,000 men and boys from what was then a Muslim enclave were slaughtered. But he blamed it on unspecified rogue elements in the Bosnian Serb army.
“With Srebrenica, unfortunately, I cannot deny everything that is alleged, but I have to contest the extent and background of what happened,” he said. “Again, it wasn’t an army unit that was tasked to do the misdeed; rather it was a sort of patchwork, a random collection of guys summoned to do the killings, to their surprise, against their own will and interest, and it was so clandestine that the perpetrators hid it from their most immediate commander.”
Karadžić’s biographer, Robert Donia, predicted he would treat the verdict with the theatricality that was his hallmark throughout the war.
“Karadžić is likely to interpret a judgment of guilty as yet another assault on the Serb people as well as on himself,” Donia said. “In his eyes, he is martyring himself on their behalf and will continue in incarceration to sacrifice for them and combat the slanderous judgment.”
In a clear sign that the verdict is unlikely to heal the , the president of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, this week with the defendant’s wife and daughter. Dodik has accused the ICTY of practising “selective justice”.
Croats, Bosniaks and Kosovans have been convicted by the ICTY, but Serbs make up the majority of the defendants. Court officials say this reflects the fact that the majority of the atrocities were carried out by Serb forces and paramilitaries.
, and the tribunal has taken another 18 months to reach a verdict and sentence. He faces two charges of genocide: one for Srebrenica and a second broader count for mass killings perpetrated across Bosnia during the 1992-95 war, which cost 100,000 lives. He also faces five counts of crimes against humanity, including extermination, and four counts of war crimes, one of which is the taking of hostages, a reference to the abduction of UN peacekeepers and their use as human shields.
The verdict will be most closely watched in Bosnia, the scene of many of the crimes. A Srebrenica survivor, Muhamed Durakovic, said there was a building sense of anticipation there.
“Everyone is going to be glued to their televisions. They have waited for so long here,” Durakovic said by phone from Srebrenica. “This has dragged on for so long. People had begun to lose faith and were worried that justice would not come before the end of the biological lives of the defendants.”
He said a guilty verdict would be helpful in undoing a sense of injustice felt by survivors.
“To undo the damage is a process, not just one event. It is a process in finding the truth and seeking justice. In the face of the deniers, we need to be aware of exactly what happened, and I think the ICTY has helped greatly in that.”
Richard Goldstone, a South African judge who was the tribunal’s first prosecutor, told the Guardian in an email interview: “Aiding reconciliation is a complex issue. I have no doubt that justice does help and that was certainly the South African experience.
“In the case of Karadžić, the fact that he was at large for 13 years must have frustrated victims. That said, his eventual capture and trial and, I am confident, a conviction tomorrow, will bring solace to many of the victims who are still alive.”
Karadžić: life and crimes
1945: Born in the Montenegrin village of Petnjica, Yugoslavia. He moves to Sarajevo in 1960 to study psychiatry
1990: Becomes leader of the Serbian Democratic party in Bosnia as Yugoslavia collapses
1991: Assembly of the breakaway Serb republic is announced and Karadžić warns Bosnian leaders not to secede from Yugoslavia
1992: Bosnia declares independence in March and war breaks out with Karadžić’s Serb separatist forces in April. The seige of Sarajevo begins
1995: Nato intervenes in Bosnia to help stop the war after massacres in Srebrenica and Sarajevo. In November, the Dayton peace deal is agreed. Karadžić is indicted by the ICTY for genocide
1996: Karadžić is forced to step down from the Republika Srpska presidency but continues to wield power behind the scenes
1997: The manhunt for war crimes indictees begins and Karadžić goes underground
2008: Karadžić is found in Belgrade posing as a new age guru, Dragan Dabic, and arrested
2009: His trial for genocide and crimes against humanity begins in The Hague
2014: Trial ends and tribunal begins considering verdict and sentence in September