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Five things you need to know about the Radovan Karadžić case

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia is issuing its judgment in the case of Radovan Karadžić, arguably its most high-profile accused since the trial of Slobodan Milošević, which ended in 2005. Here’s all you need to know about this landmark decision.

1. Who is Radovan Karadžić?

He’s the former president of Republika Srpska, an autonomous region established in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992 at the outbreak of war in the region. It ended in December 1995 and Karadžić lost power. He then went into hiding and wasn’t captured until 2008, when he was found in Belgrade. He had apparently been working as an alternative medicine practitioner for several years. His neighbours were unaware of his true identity.

2. What is he charged with?

Karadžić is charged with 11 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the laws of war. The tribunal has already convicted a number of defendants for their role in the genocide in the enclave of Srebrenica where more than 7,000 men and boys were separated from their families and killed, while women, young children and some elderly men were forcibly removed from the enclave. Karadžić is charged with this genocide. He denies the charges.

He is also charged with genocide committed in seven other municipalities of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Earlier in the case, the Trials Chamber was found that there was not sufficient evidence about what happened in these seven municipalities for it to be considered genocide against Bosnian Muslim and/or Bosnian Croat groups, and the charge was dropped. However, the Appeals Chamber found that the evidence did reach the threshold, and it reinstated the charge.

Bosnian Muslim women gather to watch a broadcast of Karadzic appearing in court. EPA/Fehim Demir

Another interesting charge is the war crime of taking hostages. This is the first time that the tribunal has charged anyone with this crime. In 1995, Bosnian Serb forces detained UN peacekeepers, purportedly in an attempt to stop the NATO bombing that was going on at the time. Karadžić argued that, because of NATO’s involvement and the peacekeepers’ link thereto, the peacekeepers were lawfully detained prisoners of war. This argument has been unsuccessful to date, and is unlikely to hold sway in the Trial Chamber’s judgment.

3. How long did the trial last?

Karadžić’s trial ran from 2010 to 2014. The Trial Chamber has been deliberating on its much anticipated judgment since October 2014. Over the course of the trial, the chamber heard evidence from almost 600 witnesses, received thousands of pages of evidence and received filings from both the prosecution and defence totalling 90,000 pages. Karadžić has received almost 3m pages of disclosed evidence from the prosecution. Right up until last week, the chamber was deciding on motions where the prosecution had failed in its obligation to disclose exculpatory (in other words favourable) evidence to the accused.

4. Did he get a fair trial?

Karadžić chose to represent himself at trial and as a result, received less legal aid than he would have if he were represented by a lawyer. There have been issues with the adequacy of time and financial resources for the preparation of the defence case throughout the trial, only some of which were resolved by the Trial Chamber.

More than 7,000 men and boys were killed in Srebrenica. EPA/Martijn Beekman

Karadžić has been critical of the use of written witness statements in the place of full oral testimony, and of the doctrine of judicial notice which admits previously adjudicated facts from other cases into the record in this case. Furthermore, one of Karadžić’s key witnesses, his wartime ally and former military leader Ratko Mladić (who is currently also standing trial in The Hague) refused to answer any questions when called to testify. Although the tribunal issued a subpoena for Mladić to appear, it failed to take any further action to compel him to testify, such as charging him with contempt of court, so Karadžić missed out on this testimony.

5. What sort of sentence will he get, if convicted?

Unlike many legal systems, international criminal courts do not have sentencing guidelines, so it is hard to predict. However, if convicted of even some of the charges, it’s likely that Karadžić will spend the rest of his life in prison.

His good behaviour and co-operation with the tribunal throughout the trial will be acknowledged as a mitigating factor in sentencing, but his refusal to surrender to the tribunal will likely act against him. Furthermore, if he is found guilty, his leadership position is likely to be an aggravating factor when it comes to sentencing.

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