Little hope for fair trial – Karadzic defense team

As the trial of former Serbian leader Radovan Karadzic gets underway at The Hague Tribunal, a member of Karadzic’s defense team, Goran Petronijevic, said in an interview with RT that he has little hope for a fair trial.

RT: Thank you very much for joining us here on RT. You’ve just returned from The Hague, where you met with Mr. Karadzic. How is he doing in prison?

Goran Petronijevic: Yes, of course, I see him whenever I’m there, I see him almost every working day. This last time, we spoke a lot about our preparation for the appeal.

RT: Nobody in Serbia thinks he’ll get a fair trial at The Hague. Do you think he will?

GP: Certainly, the conditions that the Tribunal gave us, from the very beginning, were more than unfair. Because, unlike us, they had 13 years to prepare the indictment and they have access to unlimited resources and materials. We don’t have that. Only in August this year did we receive approval to have a whole team and only then did we begin to work properly. We will need at least a year to do the whole thing right and to answer the indictment as we think we should. It’s really unfair. And it’s inexplicable why such a rush -why set a trial when nothing is ready yet? Maybe the reason is that the Tribunal is legal only until 31 December, 2010. So what happens after that? If they are in such a rush because of their legal and time limitations, does this mean that this trial will be even more unfair because they have less time? At the end of December, a new resolution from the Council of Safety will be needed so that the Tribunal can continue working. Without that new resolution, the Hague Tribunal will cease to exist. So the destiny and the duration of Hague Tribunal are connected with the decision of Security Council. If any of the members give a veto it will cease to exist. And if the Hague tribunal ceased to exist, then they would need to hand over all their cases, including Mr. Karadzic’s, to national courts – whether in Belgrade, Zagreb or Sarajevo.

RT: But the prosecutors also say that they need three years to try the case – not the one year they’ve been given. So, if both the prosecution and the defense want more time, what’s the hurry to get a trial as quickly as possible?

GP: The people who are in a rush are simply those who are aware that the Hague Tribunal is limited by time and will be limited by the decision of the Council of Safety. So they are trying to rush everybody – prosecution and defense – to let’s say, in a year, complete all the trials, which is impossible. The main thing in this case, and why Mr. Karadzic didn’t surrender himself immediately, is because of the agreement he had with Mr. Holbrooke. Now the prosecutors at The Hague aren’t taking that into consideration – and we, in our appeal, have given them evidence that this agreement existed. They argue that Mr. Holbrooke didn’t have authorization to make such an agreement, but we have evidence that he did.

RT: The trial has been seen by many as a chance for The Hague to redeem itself after its failure to conclude the Milosevic trial. Don't you think there's a lot of pressure on the prosecution to find him guilty so that the legacy of the Hague tribunal can be redeemed?

GP: We all need to know that behind such an institution as The Hague Tribunal are several world forces. Number one is the United States of America, which is trying to redeem or justify its own bad politics and bad decisions in our region. So yes, there is pressure on The Hague to try and wash away its shame because it didn’t convict Milosevic. It’s very clear that the politics of the United States, Germany and some other countries are behind the institution of The Hague Tribunal. Unfortunately, by the meddling of all these countries and their wrong politics, there have been many bloody civil wars in our region. Now they need somebody to blame. Ever since The Hague Tribunal was established, the main guilt has been put on Serbs – that’s why so many Serbs are in The Hague now, that’s why the trials of our men receive such media attention, because they’re presented as guilty from the start by those countries with wrong politics who provoked war in our country.

All over the world people are innocent until proven guilty, but in The Hague, everybody is innocent until they’re a Serb.

RT: Can we expect Karadzic to use much the same defense as his predecessor Slobodan Milosevic did? After all both of them insisted on defending themselves.

GP: He will represent himself and he will, himself, question all the witnesses and experts and talk to the court. But all the time he will have members of legal aid by his side and will have the right to talk to them, to exchange information, get materials and get everything that he needs.

RT: What kind of hope have you received from the Serbian government? Have they given you access to papers, documents, archives?

GP: I am sorry to say so, but nothing. We haven’t received any help. It’s a very complicated situation. When our State thinks it’s necessary and when they’ve received the okay from the international community, then they assist. But they work only with the prosecution. The Serbian government is trying to wash its hands of the Karadzic case, because the less they help us, the better it is for the world – that’s how our government sees it.

RT: What will be a Karadzic’s line of defense? How will he defend himself?

GP: From the beginning, Karadzic has said that the less spoken about him as a man and human being, the better. He wants to focus more on the lies of Srebrenica and Sarajevo, because in previous trials, there has been such incorrect talk about these events and many others. He will give the real facts.

RT: You said Karadzic wanted to establish the facts about Srebrenica. What facts? What is he going to argue?

GP: We are not running from the responsibility, but we want everybody to know the truth about Srebrenica. There were executions and killings, but not in such large numbers as everybody says, and there were no women and children. It was a war crime, but not genocide – it’s far from it. And all the other stories about Srebrenica are to try and demolish Serbia, make us look bad and ruin our state.

How is it possible that, in the 21st century, we still don’t know the exact names or age or sex of people who were killed there? We live in an electronic age, there is forensic evidence for everything, so how come they say only seven or eight thousand people were killed – where is the evidence of these numbers?

The second problem with Srebrenica is that it has been used by the United States and other countries to show that Serbs are the bad guys and Muslims the victims. In our opinion, everyone was a victim – Serbs, Muslims and the entire Dutch battalion who were stationed there.

Everything that happened in Srebrenica has been used for manipulation.

While preparing for the trial I’ve had the chance to meet with Muslims whose names are engraved in Srebrenica because they were supposedly killed. Just a few days ago I met one so-called Muslim victim who agreed to talk to me, even testify. He lives in America and his family receives a pension from the state because he is supposedly dead. They don’t want him to talk. He told me about at least a dozen others he knew who lived in Sweden, Holland and America and who are alive but who are supposed to have been killed.

RT: What sentence are you hoping for? You can’t really expect that Karadzic will be found innocent.

GP: We are not thinking about this at the moment – for now our focus is on getting enough time to present all of our evidence. And we want to prove that the Hague Tribunal treats us, Serbs, differently. We hope, and we know, that the truth we will present will help make peace in the former Yugoslavian republics, between Croats, Serbs and Bosnians.

RT: How long do you think the trial will last?

GP: Well, if it’s at least a little bit fair, it has to last for at least five years.

RT: Karadzic agreed to give Russia Today an interview, but the court refused. We later offered and he agreed to either a phone interview or a court interview, but the court disagreed again. And the whole matter is now being appealed. Do you think that this is an impingement on Karadzic’s legal rights?

GP: Certainly Karadzic is the first person given the right to communicate with reporters and journalists. We fought for that because he has been demonized in the media for 13 years and now finally he is able to say something for himself.

We are aware that Russia Today has tried several times to schedule an interview with him – unfortunately, if it is not in written form, it is not possible. We also know that you tried even that. From our side, if you are refused again, we believe that unfortunately it’s because you are from Russia, and Russia is a problem for them – maybe because of the relations between our two countries.

RT: Thank you very much for talking with us here, on RT.