The United Nations war crimes tribunal set up to prosecute the worst offences committed during the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s today instructed its registrar to appoint a defence lawyer for former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić, who stands accused of genocide.
As the court-appointed counsel for Mr. Karadžić will need time to prepare his case, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague also issued the decision to resume the trial on 1 March 2010.
Mr. Karadžić refused to appear at the start of his trial on 26 October, claiming his defence – which he has been preparing himself – was not ready, despite ICTY decisions stating that he had been given adequate time.
Mr. Karadžić received four separate warnings before and after the trial’s scheduled commencement date that his obstructive conduct would result in the Court assigning a lawyer to him and proceedings continuing without him.
Given his right to self-representation, Mr. Karadžić will continue to act in his own defence, including the handling of day-to-day matters, such as filing motions and responses to motions issued by the prosecution, as well as preparing himself for trial next year.
The ICTY said in a news release that should he be absent when the trial restarts in March or engage in other obstructive behaviour, he will forfeit the right to self-representation and the appointed counsel will take over his entire defence. The appointed defence lawyer will attend the trial in any case to step in at any time the trial chamber determines necessary.
Mr. Karadžić, who served as president of Republika Srpska and as head of the Serb Democratic Party and supreme commander of the Bosnian Serb military forces, was arrested last year and transferred to the custody of the ICTY after more than 13 years on the run.
He is charged with two counts of genocide and a series of other crimes, including murder, extermination, persecution, deportation and the taking of hostages, related to actions taken against Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Croats and other non-Serb civilians in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995.
The indictment against him alleges he is responsible for the murder of more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica – supposedly a “safe haven” – in July 1995 in one of the most notorious events of the Balkan wars.
Mr. Karadžić is also accused of being responsible for the shelling and sniping of civilian areas of Sarajevo during a 44-month siege of the city.