AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - With the arrest of Bosnian Serb wartime president Radovan Karadzic, U.N. prosecutors and judges are likely to seek a speedy trial to avoid the lengthy proceedings that have dogged the Hague tribunal in the past.
After more than a decade on the run, Karadzic, 63, was arrested in Belgrade to face charges of genocide related to Europe’s worst atrocities since World War Two.
Karadzic is expected to be moved later this week to the Netherlands to face trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), created 15 years ago to prosecute crimes committed during the 1992-95 Bosnia war.
Experts said prosecutor Serge Brammertz and his team of lawyers were expected to avoid a marathon like the trial that ended prematurely two years ago with the death in custody of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
Avril McDonald, associate lecturer at Groningen University and specialist on the tribunal’s proceedings, said the Office of the Prosecutor would need to deliver a speedy and efficient trial as the tribunal faces a deadline to wrap up proceedings within the next couple of years.
“The trial doesn’t need to last more than a year,” McDonald said. “They will try to get a conviction quickly.”
During Milosevic’s four-year trial, prosecutors called nearly 300 witnesses, with an annual budget that at times ran to more than $270 million.
Critics also say judges, in hoping to demonstrate the fairness of the court by allowing Milosevic to represent himself, inadvertently gave the former leader a platform to advance his political views and disrupt proceedings.
The tribunal is due to start its summer recess next week but officials said any necessary proceedings, such as an initial appearance, would be held with one judge remaining on stand-by.
Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch’s International Justice programme, said the length of Karadzic’s trial would depend on which charges prosecutors decide to press and whether Karadzic decides to represent himself.
“The office of the prosecutor needs to focus the charges at trial on the most representative sampling of the most grave crimes for which there is ample evidence,” Dicker said.
Much will also depend on the judges, he added: “There’s a kind of tension, on one hand for scrupulous respect for the accused’s right to a fair trial. At the same time it’s necessary for the judges to manage proceedings with some efficiency in the interest of justice.”
The Yugoslavia tribunal, set up in 1993, is due to close in 2010 but this deadline is almost certain to be extended with the arrest of Karadzic and hopes that Ratko Mladic, the military leader of the Bosnian Serbs and the last major fugitive from the tribunal, will be arrested.
The ICTY, the first war crimes tribunal since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials held in the aftermath of World War Two, has indicted 161 people and currently has custody of 37 indicted war criminals.
Writing by Reed Stevenson; editing by Robert Hart