First appearance of Radovan Karadzic confirms theatrics will not be absent from former leader’s trial

 By Mel O’Brien

Karadžiæ waives right to counsel and accuses Richard Holbrooke of wanting him dead; Prosecution aims to amend indictment

The initial appearance of Radovan Karadžiæ was as theatrical as could be expected. David Crane has written that the reason war crimes suspects choose to defend themselves in court is for reasons of control, politics and disruption. It certainly doesn’t seem to be any different with Karadžiæ, as his first appearance clearly shows he has no knowledge of legal procedure.

Karadžiæ began by waiving his right to counsel for the initial appearance, declaring “I have an invisible advisor but I have decided to represent myself”. After a summary of the indictment, Karadžiæ confirmed his full name and date and place of birth. He gave his “official address” as his home with his wife in Pale, Serbia, but the one other his other identity was in Belgrade. He even managed a little humour. When asked if there were any other family members he wished to be informed of his presence in The Hague, he replied "I don’t believe there is anyone who doesn’t know I am in the detention unit".

The appearance covered formalities such as a summary of the indictment, notification of the rights of the accused, and the time limit for entering a plea. The Prosecution confirmed that it is currently in the process of preparing an amended indictment. There was no date given for when the amended indictment may be filed, but the Prosecution noted that, while the charges may not change, the reason for amending the indictment is to ensure it reflects jurisprudence that has emerged since the 2000 indictment was filed. Due to this potentially new indictment in the future, Karadžiæ did not enter a plea. He was given the 30 day limit within which to enter his plea, and the next appearance is set for Friday 29 August at 14.15.

The Prosecution asked the Court to address the issue of self-representation. Judge Orie noted that there has been no official notice of self-representation filed with the Registry, but said a few key words relating to self-representation:

“The right to self-representation is a qualified right, but not an absolute right; the right may be restricted under certain circumstances. If an accused would elect to represent himself then he should accept responsibility for disadvantages of self-representation in the absence of qualified counsel. An accused who self-represents himself is not given special treatment… no provision for legal aid to be given to a self-represented accused. Some legal funding for legal associates… but this cannot be guaranteed… Communication facilities should be further discussed by registrar. Rule 45(f) requires someone who elects to represent himself to notify the registrar as soon as possible.”

Karadžiæ then confirmed his intention to represent himself- but had simply assumed that it was a given he was doing so: “I thought it was understood that I intend to represent myself not only during my initial appearance but throughout the trial… regardless of what I think of this institution I will defend myself in front of this institution.”

What followed was a conversation between Karadžiæ and Judge Orie which demonstrated Karadžiæ’s lack of awareness of legal procedure at the Tribunal. Karadžiæ wanted to raise “irregularities” relating to the circumstances of his arrest, including his being "kidnapped by unknown civilians", which he had prepared on a four-page statement. Judge Orie continually informed him that his concerns were important, and that they should be raised in a written submission to the Chamber. Judge Orie also informed him that any issues Karadžiæ may have as to his safety and security should be discussed with the Registry. However, Karadžiæ continued to attempt to talk about his situation in 1996, when he had “the intention to appear before” the ICTY, but made an agreement with Richard Holbrooke not to endanger the Dayton peace Agreement and to withdraw from public and even literary life. Karadžiæ’s dramatic statements about how he was “in danger of being liquidated because I had a deal” culminated in his declaring “This is a matter of life & death. If Mr Holbrooke still wants me dead and there is no death penalty, but I wonder if his arm is long enough…” After being told multiple times that this was not the time to raise these issues, Karadžiæ finally relented, and attempted to submit his motion by handing over his four-page statement in the middle of the courtroom.

The appearance ended with Karadžiæ confirming that he is being treated well, that the detention facilities are fine, and that his health is “perfect”, Judge Odie adjourned the appearance until Friday 29 August 2008.

So, despite his lack of legal training and knowledge of procedures at the Tribunal, the theatrics displayed by Karadžiæ seem to indicate that he will indeed continue on the path of self-representation. Whether or not that will be to his detriment, of course, remains to be seen.

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