By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– The trial of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who has been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity including genocide, was adjourned till Tuesday, October 27, after the defendant refused to show up.
Judge O-Gon Kwon of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia had originally acknowledged the absence of Karadzic, and invited the prosecution to make its opening statement. The panel of judges then abruptly adjourned the proceedings 15 minutes after they had begun and said the trial would recommence on Tuesday 2:15 p.m. local time.
Kwon said that if Karadzic, who is representing himself, continued to be absent, judges would consider appointing a lawyer to represent him.
Ahead of the proceedings, Serbia’s Foreign Minister, Vuk Jeremic, told BosNewsLife his country would do “its utmost” to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
The U.N. Tribunal in The Hague wanted Radovan Karadzic to face 11 charges Monday, October 26, including involvement in Europe’s worst massacre since World War II in Bosnia-Herzegovina, during the violent break-up of Yugoslavia.
Prosecutors say Karadzic was the architect of the killings of up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian-Serb forces in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995, as part of an “ethnic-cleansing” campaign to keep areas under Serbian control.
But the former Bosnian-Serb leader made clear in a statement that he would not attend the official start of his trial because he had “not enough time to prepare his defense.” His lawyer claims he needs at least another nine months to prepare himself.
The court said it plans to start the trial anyway. Trial observers point out that judges could start proceedings without him or force the defendant or his counsel to appear.
Serbia’s government extradited Karadzic to The Netherlands in 2008, 13 years after he was indicted for war crimes.
Prosecutors have expressed disappointment that another key suspect in the Srebrenica massacre, former Bosnian-Serb commander Ratko Mladic, remains at large, most likely in Serbia.
Speaking to BosNewsLife in Budapest, Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said Mladic would be extradited as soon “as he is found”, although he did not answer whether that may happen this year.
“If I knew how to answer this question, he would not have been at large,” said Jeremic. “But what I can say in the context of the cooperation with The Hague, the government of Serbia is going to continue doing its utmost. This is something that we have been doing so far.”
Minister Jeremic admits cooperation with The Hague tribunal is a key condition to realize the ambition of Serbia and other Balkan nations to join the European Union.
“I think that there is a widespread belief and understanding that this is precisely the way things are right now in Serbia,” he said. “And I very much hope that this issue is no longer going to be an obstacle to the strategic process of integrating [the] Balkans into the European family of nations.”
But there have been mixed feelings in Serbia about the trial of Karadzic and the apparent ongoing search for Ratko Mladic.
While some Serbs view it as a political trial by a “pro-Western” and “political court”, others see it as the best way forward for Serbia after years of isolation. (Part of this BosNewsLife News story also airs via its affiliated Voice of America (VOA) network. BosNewsLife’s NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key news developments impacting the Church and/or compassionate professionals).