The challenges of an international court

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Audio Transcript:

JEB SHARP: Karadzic's absence from the courtroom today struck Amherst College law professor Lawrence Douglas as sad, sad but predictable.

LAWRENCE DOUGLAS: This is something that Karadzic had threatened, and I think it will be interesting to see whether he continues with the strategy in the future, because the court made it clear that if it does, they will simply appoint a counsel and whether he's present or not, the trial will continue.

SHARP: So this strategy of his could actually backfire.

DOUGLAS: I think it could, because, you know, one of the things that Karadzic wants to do apparently is, it's like he's trying to take a page out of Slobodan Milosevic's playbook. He's trying to make himself the focus of the trial. He wants to challenge the legitimacy of the tribunal, and in order to do that, he actually needs to be present. So I think his strategy of boycotting could actually backfire on him and I think, given his interest in showmanship, he actually wants to be in the courtroom.

SHARP: Yeah, that's very interesting. We should remind people that Milosevic carried on his own defense. There were many antics. There were also legitimate delays because of his many health problems. But there was at times a circus atmosphere, and as you say, that's what people will be worried about. What do you think the tribunal is thinking, in terms of trying to prevent that, should Karadzic return to the courtroom?

DOUGLAS: I think first of all it's important to emphasize that even if Karadzic wants to play Milosevic part two, that the prosecution learned a lot from the first Milosevic case. I mean, for example, the indictment of Karadzic is a far more streamlined document than the really kind of massive and unwieldy indictment that the prosecution brought against Milosevic. And the other thing to bear in mind is Milosevic, he actually was a student of law, and it wasn't simply to harangue the court. He actually was pretty quick on his feet. And I'm not sure if Karadzic is capable of engaging in that same kind of antics. And maybe the third thing worth emphasizing is, what was very effective when Milosevic did it, that was kind of fresh. And to se Karadzic doing it, it might really just bore people, and the court can just cut him off.

SHARP: What do you think is critical about this particular case? What's specific to the indictment against Karadzic and why does this case matter on its own merits?

DOUGLAS: Well, I think there are a couple of things. The prosecution sees this as their chance to make good for everything that went wrong in the Milosevic case. Most emphatically what went wrong, of course, Milosevic died before any judgment could be rendered. So Karadzic is really the highest level perpetrator to come before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and I think for bringing this whole trial program to a conclusion, the prosecution would like nothing more than to have a high level perpetrator convicted of genocide.

SHARP: And meanwhile, you have these incredibly poignant moments, as this morning, when you have victims and survivors in the audience, on the edges of their seats, waiting for a trial to begin and it doesn't start.

DOUGLAS: Absolutely. I mean, this is something where this is the difference between some kind of legal retribution and vengeance. The law proceeds by its own very careful procedures, and even though your heart can go out to victims who see the delays in the proceedings as just another example of the inability to bring these perpetrators to justice, we also need to bear in mind that you can't just drag a recalcitrant defendant into a court and shackle him to a chair. That doesn't serve anybody's interests in the long run either.

SHARP: Lawrence Douglas is a professor of law and jurisprudence at Amherst College. Thanks so much for talking to us.

DOUGLAS: It was my pleasure.