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Convicting Serb Leader Could Be Difficult

July 31, 2008

By MIKE CORDER

By Mike Corder

The Associated Press

THE HAGUE, Netherlands

The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal has Radovan Karadzic in custody, 13 years after indicting the Bosnian Serb leader on genocide charges.

From video of summary executions to photos of skeletal prisoners, prosecutors have plenty of evidence of atrocities.

But Slobodan Milosevic’s tortuous trial demonstrated how tricky it is to prove a political leader masterminded the crimes as part of a genocidal plot to carve out an ethnically pure Serb ministate in Bosnia.

The late Serb despot, however, may have helped prosecutors by blaming Karadzic for Bosnian atrocities. Milosevic had argued that as leader of Serbia, he was not in control of Karadzic and his Bosnian Serb forces who killed tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats in the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

“During the Milosevic trial, it became really clear that Karadzic was the real architect of genocide,” said professor Michael Scharf, the director of the Frederick K. Cox International Law Center at Case Western Reserve University. “The defense made a convincing case that Milosevic was much less culpable than Karadzic.”

Milosevic, a one-time mentor to Karadzic, died in his cell in March 2006, bringing his four-year trial to an inconclusive end.

Ten suspects have been charged with mankind’s “crime of crimes” since the U.N. court opened its doors in 1993. Only one, Gen. Radislav Krstic, who commanded Serb forces involved in the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men in Srebrenica, has been found guilty. An appellate court reduced his original conviction for genocide to aiding and abetting genocide.

On Tuesday, Bosnia’s domestic war crimes court convicted seven Bosnian Serbs of genocide in the Srebrenica massacre and handed down prison sentences ranging from 38 to 42 years. Four others were acquitted.

Judges may never find a smoking gun – such as written orders for Muslims and Croats to be wiped out – that would convict Karadzic of genocide, said professor Ton Zwaan of Amsterdam University’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

That makes it difficult to prove a key element in the crime of genocide – that the murders were carried out with the intent of exterminating all or part of a specific national, ethnic, racial or religious group.

“Normally, these decisions are taken verbally only between a few people,” Zwaan said. “And, for obvious reasons, they don’t put their thoughts in writing because they know they are acting in a colossal criminal affair.”

Karadzic is charged with 11 counts, including genocide and crimes against humanity, for allegedly orchestrating the Srebrenica murders, the deadly 44-month siege of Sarajevo and brutal ethnic cleansing campaigns.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called Karadzic’s transfer to The Hague “a very positive development, I think, for Serbia, first and foremost. And also a positive development for justice.”

Prosecutor Serge Brammertz conceded the case would not be easy but said his team would draw on evidence already presented in other cases since Karadzic’s original 1995 indictment. They are expected to update the indictment before the trial begins.

“We will ensure that it reflects the current case law, facts already established by the court and evidence collected over the past eight years,” he said.

Brammertz said prosecutors also would present evidence including audio and video tapes and witness statements.

“It will be a complex trial, like other cases before this tribunal,” Brammertz said. “In order to prove these serious crimes, the prosecution will have to present a significant amount of evidence, including the testimony of many witnesses.”

In the past, images played to judges at the tribunal have included footage of Serb forces gunning down unarmed Muslim men in a field near Srebrenica and photos of malnourished inmates at Serb- run camps.

There are fears that, like Milosevic, Karadzic will seek to drag out the trial by bickering with judges and prosecutors and using his defendant’s stand as a soap box for his nationalistic views.

Karadzic’s Belgrade-based lawyer, Sveta Vujacic, has said the former Bosnian Serb leader plans to conduct his own defense, but will assemble a team of attorneys to help him – a copy of Milosevic’s strategy.

Vujacic said Karadzic had been preparing his defense during his years in hiding. Like Milosevic, he is expected to portray Serbs as victims of the Balkan conflict and claim his actions were trying to protect his people.

the challenge

Judges may never find a smoking gun – such as written orders for Muslims and Croats to be wiped out – that would convict Karadzic , said Ton Zwaan of Amsterdam University’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

That makes it difficult to prove a key element in the crime of genocide – that the murders were carried out with the intent of exterminating all or part of a specific national, ethnic, racial or religious group. the charges

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, right, is charged with 11 counts in the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal, including genocide and crimes against humanity, for allegedly orchestrating the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men in Srebrenica, the deadly 44-month siege of Sarajevo and brutal ethnic cleansing campaigns.

Originally published by BY MIKE CORDER.

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