Top UN judge withdraws from Karadzic case

The Hague (AFP) –


The top judge in the appeals case of convicted Bosnian Serb war criminal Radovan Karadzic withdrew from the case Thursday to avoid an accusation of possible bias, court documents said.

Judge Theodor Meron's withdrawal from the high-profile appeal comes less than three weeks after he and two other judges were removed in a similar case involving convicted former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic.

"In order not to allow disqualification proceedings to impede the progress of the appeals case, it is in the interest of justice that I withdraw" from the Karadzic case, Meron said in the documents made public.

Karadzic's lawyers had filed a similar argument to those used by Mladic -- that the three judges may not be impartial in the appeals cases because they previously ruled in other cases dealing with the same facts.

However Meron, the president of the new UN legal mechanism in The Hague that took over from the former Yugoslav war crimes court, insisted that he would have "continued to adjudicate the Karadzic case with an impartial mind".

Meron added that the earlier decision to disqualify the judges in the Mladic case "in my view harms the interests of the mechanism" by "wrongly suggesting" there is a risk of bias.

Both Karadzic, 73 and Mladic, 76, are appealing convictions of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for their roles in Bosnia's bloody civil war.

Fighting broke out in 1992 in Bosnia when Yugoslavia split up after the fall of communism. Subsequently 100,000 people died and 2.2 million others lost their homes.

One-time political leader Karadzic and his military chief Mladic are appealing their convictions, including for genocide relating to the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

Almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered and their bodies dumped in shallow graves after Bosnian Serb troops overran a UN-protected area in eastern Bosnia in mid-1995, in Europe's worst bloodshed since World War II.