I’m overdue for an update on work here, not least because a certain family member keeps suggesting that I am spending too much time having fun and traveling! Let me assure you all that I a) have taken only one day off so far and b) work at least eight hours a day.
The Mladić trial will FINALLY resume next Monday. (Remember: it officially started the week I arrived!) I was supposed to go to Krakow this weekend but have canceled those plans in favor of staying here to help with prepping the first witness. I’m really excited, personally and professionally, for the experiences I’ll get to have over the next week and a half. After eight weeks of reading witness statements, previous judgments, and all sorts of other things in which I learn a lot about everything that happened, it will be so meaningful to actually meet and speak with one of the thousands of victims for whom we’re doing all of this work. The first witness has a heartbreaking story to tell, and I have so much respect for him and all the others who have the courage to recount their experiences in front of the accused and everyone else at the Tribunal.
That’s about all I can say about my case for right now – next week once there’s news coverage again, I’ll have a better idea of what is and is not confidential, and I will discuss whatever I can.
Aside from the Mladić case, I had a pretty interesting day at work last Thursday. I finally went and watched two live court proceedings at the courtroom rather than via live stream at my desk. I say “at” rather than “in” the courtroom because you can’t actually be in the room. Instead, the audience sits on the other side of a glass wall – it’s like being in the same room, except the glass is soundproof, so in order to hear anything you have to use the listening devices (which offer a choice of English, French, and BCS). There are times when the court goes into what’s called “private session”, and at that time you can’t hear what’s going on.
Thursday morning started with the announcement of the judgment in the third contempt of court trial of Vojislav Šešelj, who is a real nutcase even amongst all of the defendants. (The previous record for contempt of court charges was ONE; he’s now had THREE.) He spent a lot of time while the judge read the judgment looking at all of us in the audience, and even though we were pretty far away from him, I’m fairly certain that he made eye contact with me at one point. That was creepy enough, but the ending blew us all away. The judge asked him to stand up in order to hear his sentence, and Šešelj defiantly stayed seated and said (through a female translator) “why would I stand for you? You’re the scum of the earth,” at which point he turned and practically grinned at all of us in the audience. It makes me think that they shouldn’t allow anyone to watch any of his proceedings – he clearly loves to put on a show.
Next up was Radovan Karadžić, the other big bad wolf of the Bosnian Serbs. He and Mladić have very similar indictments, but his trial is halfway finished – the prosecution finished presenting its case not long before we arrived. As a result, we got to watch the judgement for his motion for summary judgement. (Essentially, he submitted that the prosecution had not proved its case and asked the judges to make a ruling on each count of whether or not the prosecution had provided evidence sufficient to allow a trier of fact to conclude that he was guilty – which is not the same as actually finding him guilty). The audience seating for this courtroom is much closer, and from my position I was maybe 10 yards away from Karadžić. Like Mladić, who appearance-wise could have passed for a law professor during our opening statements, Karadžić looks like a perfectly normal guy. He’s representing himself, so it’s even easier to believe – rather than sitting in the usual box for the accused, he was sitting in the area for defense counsel (along with a couple of people who were there as his advisors), and he only had one guard sitting off to the side. It’s worth noting that Karadžić was a psychiatrist before he got involved in politics and became president of the Bosnian Serbs. (This makes all of the atrocities he ordered all the more disturbing to me.) Anyway, he sat there pretty passively as the judge read through the first part of the judgement (during which they said for count after count that the prosecution had presented sufficient evidence). After about an hour the judge allowed a 15-minute recess, and I stayed there and watched Karadžić, who stood up and chatted pleasantly with the people around him – smiling, laughing, generally looking like anyone on a coffee break in an office. I made eye contact with him too. So, so weird.
After that I headed back up to my office to watch the remainder via live stream, and I now wish that I had stayed downstairs. We got a real shock when the judge announced that they were going to acquit him of one of his genocide charges – that was not something that ANYONE was expecting, and once again, we didn’t have the opportunity to see the reaction of the accused because the camera mostly stayed on the judge.
That decision has made our work both more motivating and more important. I’ve been working for the last two weeks on exactly the same charge that the judges dropped for Karadžić, so I’m now doing my best to make sure that I’m not only doing my work accurately but also that I’m thinking ahead as much as possible and anticipating ways in which I can be helpful. I don’t want our first witness to relive the nightmares of his youth once again only to hear the judge read months from now that we weren’t able to prove our genocide case.