Karadzic refuses to enter plea at war crimes tribunal

The former Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, on Friday accused the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague of being a ”Nato court” bent on killing him.

Appearing on 11 charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, Karadzic challenged the legitimacy of the court, refused to enter any pleas and insisted on defending himself.

The strategy outlined on Friday indicated that the 63-year-old, arrested in Belgrade last month after 13 years as Europe’s most wanted fugitive, intends to use the tribunal as a stage on which to present himself as a victim of alleged Western treachery.

Karadzic is charged with responsibility for the most horrendous crimes in Europe since the Nazis, including the Serbian slaughter of almost 8 000 Muslims at Srebrenica in July 1995, the long siege of Sarajevo, and the ”ethnic cleansing” of north-western Bosnia in the autumn of 1992, when tens of thousands of non-Serbs were killed and hundreds of thousands driven from their homes.

At Karadzic’s second pre-trial hearing on Friday, Judge Iain Bonomy, the Scottish high court judge who presided over the trial of the late Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, ordered the defendant to stand, hear the charges, and enter a plea.

”Count one, you are charged with genocide,” said the judge.

”I will not plead in line with my standpoint towards this court,” Karadzic replied, appearing more confident than when first brought before the tribunal at the end of last month.

When the judge ordered a plea of not guilty to be entered, Karadzic interrupted him.

”May I hold you to your word?” he asked.

”What word?”

”That I’m not guilty.”

”We will see,” said Judge Bonomy who was again interrupted by Karadzic when he sought to adjourn the hearing after 22 minutes.

Karadzic said he would be assembling a team of ”associates and helpers” to assist him in conducting his own defence, a strategy that is certain to create delays in the smooth running of the case.

Some of his most prominent fellow-Serb defendants, including Milosevic and Vojislav Seselj, an extreme nationalist leader, have adopted the same time-wasting tactics.

Since being extradited to The Hague, Karadzic has delivered 10 written submissions complaining about various aspects of the proceedings and claiming that former officials from the Clinton administration in the 1990s want him dead.

Karadzic was the political leader of the Bosnian Serbs during the 1992-95 Bosnia war. He headed the main Serbian party in Bosnia and was president of the self-proclaimed Serbian republic in half of Bosnia, and was indicted for genocide and crimes against humanity in 1995.

He retired from politics a year after the war ended and vanished until he was arrested on a bus in Belgrade in Serbia last month disguised as a long-haired alternative medicine aficionado under the alias Dragan Dabic.

”I have stopped using a false name. I think all parties should do the same,” he told the judge, claiming that the tribunal was operating under false pretences.

”I am deeply convinced this is a Nato court,” he said. ”This court is representing itself falsely as a court of the international community, whereas it is in fact a court of Nato whose aim is to liquidate me.”

While Judge Bonomy was brisk with the accused, he also voiced exasperation with the American lawyers leading the prosecution in what is the most important case to come before the tribunal in its 15-year history.

The prosecution is in the process of revising the charge sheet which was last amended in 2000 to take account of case law and evidence at the tribunal in the past eight years and also to streamline the case against Karadzic.

The prosecutors said they hoped to deliver the amended indictment by the end of September. Judge Bonomy was visibly annoyed, asking why the prosecution had waited eight years until the suspect was in custody before starting to revise the charge sheet. – guardian.co.uk

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