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Karadzic boycotts trial: ICTY struggles to serve justice at The Hague

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Karadzic, in court at The Hague, in this March 3, 2009 file image. (Photo: AP/Jerry Lampen, Pool, File)

CNN reports that the trial of Radovan Karadzic, accused of war crimes during Yugoslavia's violent implosion, is to go on despite his refusal to show up.

Karadzic, a Bosnian Serb leader, was found in Belgrade, Serbia, and brought to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 2008 after spending more than a decade in hiding. He is accused of leading the worst massacre, called by some genocide, in Europe since World War II.

Excuse after excuse brings the process to a grinding halt

Karadzic complained in a letter days before the beginning of his trial that he had not been afforded time to prepare his case:

I ask Your Excellencies -- why and how is it possible that the prosecution is allowed to literally bury me under a million of pages, only to start disclosing relevant material many months after my arrest? Why and how is it possible that the prosecution is allowed to file its final indictment against me on the eve of the planned trial date?

The stonewalling is similar to problems encountered by the ICTY when it attempted to try Slobodan Milosevic. Yugoslavia's authoritarian leader at the time of the federation's collapse, Milosevic died in his jail cell in 2006, no sentence ever being carried out for the war crimes he was accused of.

Can the trial move forward?

Karadzic's trial opened October 26, 2009, but he did not show, claiming he had not been able to prepare adequately. The court is unable to force a defendant to show at proceedings; Karadzic decided to represent himself, so a refusal to show up can prevent the ICTY from ever moving forward in his case.

While stressing that the court would prefer for him to appear personally, ICTY spokeswoman Nerma Jelacic told CNN other measures could eventually be taken to move the case along. Among the options are setting up a live video feed between the courtroom and Karadzic's cell, or simply imposing an attorney if he continues his boycott.

 No punishment for the crime?

Karadzic firmly denies the charges of genocide that have been leveled against him by the ICTY - he is held responsible for the massacre of thousands in Srebrenica, Bosnia Herzegovina. However, critics and advocates of the war victims fear that justice will not be served.

Milosevic died in prison, but was never fully tried or punished for his complicity in the war crimes. Recently, another Bosnian Serb leader, Biljana Plavsic, was released from a Swedish prison after serving two-thirds of her 11-year sentence, according to CNN. Other Bosnian Serb war leaders, including Ratko Mladic, remain at large.

Critics say Milosevic spent years in limbo at The Hague, while other criminals like Mladic remain unaccounted-for. Furthermore, it took over a decade to get ahold of Karadzic, and now he may be able to delay punishment indefinitely.

Nevertheless, ICTY spokespeople have told news outlets they plan on pressing ahead with the trial and eventually delivering a sentence. If convicted, Karadzic will face life imprisonment; the court cannot impose a death penalty.

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