Prosecutors indicting accused war criminal Ratko Mladic should look at the trial of Saddam Hussein to ensure Mladic's trial is fair and efficient, a leading international lawyer has said.
Speaking to Lawyers Weekly, Dr Gideon Boas, a senior lecturer at Monash University and former Senior Legal Officer at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), said Mladic's trial is likely to go on for at least four years unless changes are made to the way in which the tribunal's trials are run.
"There are many concerns which challenge ideas of fairness in war crimes trials, and that includes the way in which the trials are conducted," said Boas.
"There is a question about whether the prosecution should bring fewer charges against an accused, such as Mladic. He is charged with crimes such as the Srebrenica genocide, the siege of Sarajevo and a whole range of other crimes in municipalities in Bosnia. If the prosecution runs that entire indictment it will take a long time, so there is pressure on them to drop some areas of the indictment to enable the case to be shorter and more focused."
According to Boas, it is the sheer scale of war crimes trials - which often include tens of thousands of victims - which makes them costly and inefficient.
While this goes against the basic right to a fair and expeditious trial, Boas said it is also testing the will of the international community to fund such trials - a point demonstrated by Australia's decision last month to scale back funding to the International Criminal Court.
"One of the greatest threats to international criminal law is the diminishing will of the international community to fund it. The ICTY, which is now trying a handful of people, costs about $US150 million a year," he said.
"And when the trial takes a long time to commence, as in the case of [the International Criminal Tribunal for] Rwanda for example, there are cases that haven't finished yet and the accused has been in custody for over 10 years. Or, in the case of someone like Milosevic, when the actual trial itself goes on for four or five years, there is also a question about the capacity of the defendant to sustain a trial of that length and volume. That is a major concern."
According to Boas, the trial of Saddam Hussein, despite the controversies which surrounded it, does provide an example of ways in which such trials can be run better.
"Although that tribunal had some very serious legitimacy issues, the way the prosecution went about prosecuting him was very clever and clearly in reaction to the problem in the trial of Milosevic," he explained.
"They charged Hussein with one incident ... and prosecuted him for that and got a conviction. Then they moved on to the next indictment. It was a much more focused approach and a much more efficient and expeditious trial as a result of that."
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