October, 26, 2009. The Hague.
Today, I stood in the visitor's line to get a place in the public viewing room of Courtroom I at the ICTY to watch the start of the prosecution against Karadzic for his role in a joint criminal enterprise to commit genocide through the massacre at Srebrenica in 1995 that resulted in over 8,000 deaths.
There were many people holding banners. One of them listed the names of people who died in the massacre and their dates of birth. They ranged from teenagers to people in the 60s, upon a quick glance. There were about ten vans with satellite dishes on top parked across from the ICTY. A group of people (mostly women) from Srebrenica came to the trial and was allowed in. Many of them wore head scarves. The other visitors and I standing in line were allowed through the first security checkpoint after the group had been admitted.
On the way in, I heard the guards tell a person (presumably an ICTY staff member) that she could not sit in the public viewing area because it was not for "staff." Apparently, many of the media could not sit there, either, and they were mostly based in the World Forum across the street with video screens to show the court proceedings. A few handfuls of people with laptops (possibly journalists) were inside the ICTY but they seemed to be based outside the courtroom in the lobby in front of the lobby TV screens broadcasting the court proceedings.
I went through the second security checkpoint and upstairs to Courtroom I and got a handheld translator (which seemed to cut off when I put it inside my blazer pocket so maybe it had a weak wireless signal). I took a seat in the back because it was, at least, near the center of the room with a view of the entire courtroom ahead. There was a large glass wall separating us, in the public gallery, from the courtroom but the judges were directly ahead of us and the prosecution to our right. Neither Karadzic nor any defense lawyers seemed to be in the courtroom (on our left hand side), just the prosecution (on our right).
The prosecutor was speaking, a caucasian woman with short grey hair. The judges huddled together and then one of them (of Asian ethnicity) announced that the proceedings would be adjourned until tomorrow at 2:15 pm when they will begin with the prosecutor's opening statements. The people in the public viewing gallery were upset at the delay and some shouted out, especially the older woman with a head scarf next to me. The viewers stood up even though the judges were all seated and we were supposed to observe courtroom decorum and sit ourselves. The guards seemed a bit concerned and asked us to sit but then the judges, themselves, got up.
I said to the older woman standing next to me and to a younger woman (in her 30s or 40s) standing in front of me, the simple word - "tomorrow." I gestured forward with my hands since I did not know if they spoke English. I thought they were upset that it was adjourned and, maybe, did not realize it was a temporary postponement. They understood but were not comforted.
The woman standing in front of me said, "we came all the way from Srebrenica." I thought to myself that these people may have lost family or friends in the massacre. I could see their anger and hurt. I realized there was not much I could say. To them, justice delayed (even one day) was justice denied. I reached forward and gave the woman a hug. She stood still and did not seem to react. I pulled back and then noticed that, within a couple seconds, she had started to cry, perhaps as a release triggered by my short and tentative embrace. Her eyes were red. She was upset. They had waited 14 years for this day and now they would have to wait another 24 hours.
I got a tea from the automatic machine in the ICTY lobby and watched everyone gather in the lobby and then outside in front of the main door of the ICTY but inside the tall iron gate. Reporters and cameramen spoke with the older woman that had been sitting next to me. I imagine she will be on Bosnian TV tonight. She sounded just as angy or even angrier as when we were in Courtroom I.
I finished my hot tea and went to the tram station and sat, waiting for the tram but thinking about the events of the morning. A woman with a dog passed by and asked me when the next tram would come. I thought she needed assistance. We saw that the last tram had come one hour earlier and that no further trams would arrive. She did not really need to know for herself but she was trying to help me snap out of it. She said she had noticed that a lot of people don't realize when the tram stops running. I think she was just out walking her dog and offered a little assistance.
A hug here. Some advice from a stranger there. These are the human elements that bind us and, maybe, give us a bit of faith in each other when broader events seem unfair or meaningless. The ICTY proceedings can be viewed live over the internet (if you are awake at that time in Europe) via http://www.icty.org/. The court's schedule is available here: http://www.icty.org/sections/TheCases/CourtSchedule