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◌  Karadžić

19 March 2009

ICTY case IT-95-5/18-PT, 17 September 2008, page 41:

12 JUDGE BONOMY: Thank you, Mr. Tieger. 13 Mr. Karadzic, you appear again on your own I assume? 14 THE ACCUSED: [Microphone not activated] 15 THE INTERPRETER: Microphone, please. 16 THE ACCUSED: [Interpretation] I'm never alone, but I am here 17 alone. I have my invisible advisors, but I'm a Gemini so there are two 18 of us anyway. 19 JUDGE BONOMY: We'll come back to that in a moment.

My opinions about international trials for crimes against humanity are unexamined. Intuitively I like the idea a lot, but I wonder about things like corruptibility, vulnerability to chaffing tactics, and, generally, whether they can be both internally just and a good deterrent to people weird enough to commit such crimes. Practical questions turn into tricky ones about, you know, the natures of sovereignty and criminal insanity.

But I am glad we’re trying. The most interesting case to me so far, that of Karadžić, will be particularly useful if it sets a big modern precedent for convicting heads of state. And it might do something to publicize the Srebrenica massacre, which always hits me as an excellent opportunity for the public of the developed world to think better about these kinds of crimes – not directly because it was in Europe and the victims were white like us, but because it happened in a UN safe zone.

(It confuses me that this is so rarely raised. In historical perspective, 8000-some civilians dying in a war hardly registers. But for it to happen in and around buildings marked UN; for it to be widely reported as it happened without decisive intervention; for it to happen not just metaphorically in our backyard – as far from Rome as San Francisco is from Los Angeles – but actually in earshot of the good guys lays guilt specifically as well as generally on democracies. It’s drifting from a sin of omission like Darfur (and Uganda, and the CAR, and Myanmar, and Zimbabwe) toward a sin of commission. And that’s why Srebrenica as a kind of test case seems so important to me even when worse things are happening: because by forcing us to see that boots on the ground were not enough then, it moves the frame toward getting at least that far in Darfur etc., given that Darfur etc. evidently don’t speak for themselves.)

Apparently Karadžić’s defense, like Milošević’s, will be arch, dismissive, vexatious, and eely. He’s already rejected a judge who he says, having made convictions in related cases, will want to justify them by making more. By representing himself, he keeps the ICTY off balance by having to bend over backwards for him, still heightens suspicion that he’s helpless, and gets to call delays to deal singlehanded with the stuff that lawyers are for. Just arguing about jurisdiction and basic procedure could buy him a year. Calling Holbrooke to testify could hardly leave Karadžić any worse off. And so on. This is increasingly the normal way to defend against strong evidence of crimes against humanity, and it will be fascinating to watch.