By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
THE HAGUE/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– International judges and prosecutors were preparing Thursday, March 5, for a complicated trial after former Bosnian-Serb leader Radovan Karadzic refused to enter a plea to an amended indictment of genocide and crimes against humanity.
The legal wrangling began Tuesday, March 3, at the United Nations International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, where a judge entered a plea of “not guilty” for the world’s most wanted war crimes suspect.
Former Bosnian-Serb president Karadzic has been accused of atrocities during the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina from 1992 through 1995.
He was detained last July, after 11 years on the run, while posing as a doctor practicing alternative medicine called Dr. Dragan Dabic, a figure resembling Santa Claus with a long white beard and long hair. Now freshly shave, he faces life in prison on two genocide charges and nine other counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Karadzic became especially notorious for allegedly supervising Europe’s worst massacre since World War II in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, where Serb forces killed up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the summer of 1995. Christian missionaries have been involved in trying to reach reconciliation and giving aid to Muslims in the troubled region.
Yet, a defiant Karadzic rejected all 11 charges of a streamlined indictment, but refused to plead guilty or not guilty in front of presiding judge Iain Bonomy.
Instead, he questioned the jurisdiction of the U.N. court, and suggested it violates an alleged immunity agreement. “I have a general position in relation to the entire indictment, in terms of challenging jurisdiction of this Tribunal. I am challenging it on the basis of my agreement with the international community whose representative at that point in time was Mr. Richard Holbrooke,” he said.
“May I be allowed to quote a Serbian poet who said ‘my case becomes a case of the entire world.’ I am defending a principle here,” Karadzic added.
Holbrooke, who helped mediate an end to the Bosnian war, has denied he struck a deal that would allow Karadzic to walk free if he withdrew from public life.
Karadzic was quickly interrupted by Judge Bonomy when he continued to attack the world community for allegedly violating the Dayton Peace Accords that ended the Bosnian war. It happened when Karadzic said: “One can not play games with entire regions and even with the world as a whole. I am abiding….” “Mr. Karadzic,” Judge Bonomy said, “I have cut you off because you are not [addressing] your submissions, which [are] before the court.”
Judge Bonomy again asked Karadzic whether he wanted to plea to the charges directed against him saying: “So just for the avoidance of any doubt, is it your clear position that for whatever reason you do not intend to state whether you plead guilty or not guilty to the charges on the indictment?”
“You interpreted that properly, yes,” Karadzic answered. “Very well, I shall enter pleas of not guilty on all 11 charges on your behalf and instruct the registrar to appoint a trial at an appropriate date,” the judge said.
The incident underscored concerns the trial could be long, because the 63-year-old Karadzic is acting as his own defense lawyer. It comes at a time when the U.N. Security Council has pressured the Yugoslav tribunal to complete trials next year.
Another high-profile suspect, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, also refused to be represented in court by an attorney. He was found dead in the detention center of the U.N. Tribunal in 2006, after five years of legal wrangling.
The U.N. court is still searching for Karadzic’s military adviser, former Bosnian-Serb general Ratko Mladic, who has also been accused of war crimes, including genocide. (BosNewsLife’s NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key news developments impacting the Church and compassionate professionals. Part of this BosNewsLife NEWS story also aired on its affiliate Voice of America (VOA) network).