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Karadzic seeks self-defence limelight

By Paulin Kola
BBC News

Radovan Karadzic appears at The Hague, 31 July 2008
Radovan Karadzic fears he may never be acquiteted

"I will defend myself before this institution as I would defend myself before any natural catastrophe," said former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic during his first court appearance at the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague last month.

In rejecting a defence lawyer of his own choice, he follows his late mentor-cum-idol, Slobodan Milosevic - the former Serbian and Yugoslav president, who died in custody at the tribunal's detention unit in 2006, over four years after his trial had begun.

It will be a hard act to follow, though.

Harder still may be to emulate the flamboyant - if also vituperative - Vojislav Seselj, the right-wing leader of the Serbian Radical Party, who is also defending himself at the ICTY.

Radovan Karadzic will have followed - and admired - the eloquence of both men behind bars, as well as their perceived point-scoring as they sparred with their nemeses: the judges and prosecutors, who they see largely as tools of a West keen to humiliate Serbia and proud Serbs.

Workload

He might have been able to detect the occasional flicker of frustration, but not the fatigue that comes when hours become days, and months extend into years of often repetitive, cumulative evidence-gathering/presenting exercise, punctuated by impenetrable legalese.

In short, he is in for a shock.

The detention unit is a comfortable place once you reconcile yourself to being there, detainees say.

Will Mr Karadzic have Mr Milosevic's crisp, probing techniques when questioning witnesses

Those who choose to defend themselves certainly enjoy perks others do not - two rooms - an "archive" cell in addition to a "residential" cell - a telephone, a desktop computer and the paid services of a legal associate - but not legal aid to pay teams of lawyers working for them in the background.

What Mr Karadzic may not have bargained for is the amount of paperwork he will have to go through to be able to prepare witnesses for testimony in court - a case of one man against prosecutors who take turns and have numerous officers working on the case.

Add to it the fact that, unlike Milosevic, he has no legal background and legal arguments will pass him by unless painstakingly broken down in layman's terms by practitioners of law who excel at arguing with their learned colleagues.

Put all of this against constant pressure for the tribunal to wrap up its work in an expeditionary manner.

Leeway

"An accused who represents himself is not given special treatment," Judge Alphons Orie warned Mr Karadzic.

But the opposite is usually the case - and the most obvious tends to be the costliest - allowing the accused more time to prepare, sitting for three or four days, instead of five, and therefore prolonging the trial.

Slobodan Milosevic used this brilliantly.

However, one of the lawyers appointed to assist him, Timothy McCormack, said Mr Milosevic was careful not to cross a red line that might have led to him forfeiting his right to self-representation.

Vojislav Seselj often has, but he is still there.

Slobodan Milosevic in court in 2002
Milosevic captivated Serb audiences with his courtroom performance

The solution - attempted on both occasions - has been to try to impose defence counsel on the accused. It has failed. Mr Milosevic refused to co-operate and, at times, even ridiculed them, and Mr Seselj went into a hunger strike until the issue was resolved in his favour.

Radovan Karadzic may have a slightly reduced workload - his indictment appears to be much more reduced in scope and geography - and the list of witnesses may be similarly short.

However, this does not, in itself, mean the trial will be short.

The main duelling courtroom partner to Mr Milosevic, prosecutor Geoffrey Nice, QC, denies that trial lasted that long because the indictment was long and too complex.

"It is probably a false belief that it's the scale of the indictments that takes time or that time is excessively used," Mr Nice argues.

Public platform

The former Bosnian Serb leader has already sought to dismiss the case against him - the prosecutor, he said in July, may have "made a deal with the trial chamber".

"Regardless of what truths may be demonstrated in this room, no-one on earth believes in the possibility of an acquittal," he wrote in the first motion filed with the trial chamber.

Karadzic came to The Hague from an absence of more than 10 years from the public eye and sees the courtroom as the one and only outlet available to him to reclaim the public's attention

But, unlike Mr Milosevic who launched constant tirades against the "illegal" court even as he played by its rules, or Mr Seselj, who randomly hurls abuse at the judges, Radovan Karadzic appears more resigned to co-operating.

And he has a vested interest. Unlike the other two, he came to The Hague from an absence of more than 10 years from the public eye and sees the courtroom as the one and only outlet available to him to reclaim the public's attention.

Especially, if, as he says, he never believes he will be acquitted.

In order to be seen to be fair, judges may allow him time for political exhibitionism, if suitably deducted from that available for evidence. Their verdict will certainly be based on the latter.

Will Mr Karadzic have Mr Milosevic's crisp, probing techniques when questioning witnesses? Or the aggressiveness he showed to intimidate crime-scene victims venturing out of their villages for the first time straight into the world's television screens?


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