Radovan Karadzic defends ‘just and holy’ war at genocide trial, Monday 1 March 2010 11.25 GMT
Radovan Karadzic described the Serb cause in the Bosnian war as "just and holy" at the start of his defence against charges of genocide and other war crimes today.
The former Bosnian Serb leader has been accused of the biggest mass murder in Europe since the second world war. He denies two counts of genocide and nine other counts of murder, extermination, persecution, forced deportation and the seizing of 200 United Nations hostages.
The 64-year-old, who is representing himself, insisted the Serbs were only acting in self-defence and that any conflicts resulting from the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s was a natural consequence of Serbs, Croats and Muslims fighting for land.
"What I’m going to present here is the marble truth," Karadzic said in his opening statement at the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague.
"Everything that Serbs did is being treated as a crime," Karadzic said, often referring to himself in the third person as "Karadzic".
Karadzic will have two days to deliver his opening statement, followed by the start of the prosecutors’ case against him.
"I will defend that nation of ours and their cause that is just and holy. We have a good case. We have good evidence and proof," he told the court.
Karadzic sought to portray the Serbs as the victims, blaming the former Croat leader Franjo Tudjman, and the former Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegović of pursuing "ethnocentric" aims, with the desire to create Croatian and Bosnian Muslim states respectively. An indictment would be more believable against Croatian and Bosnian Muslim rather than Serbian leaders, Karadzic told the court.
He accused Turkey of wanting to re-establish an "Ottoman" presence in the Balkans and restore a "stability of the cemetery". Karadzic repeatedly said the Serbs were reacting to events and only took action to defend themselves. "My generals were taking action to defend Serbs … against a raging bull."
He went on to accuse the prosecutors of trying to smear him as "a monster" because they had no case.
Prosecutors say Karadzic orchestrated a campaign to destroy the Muslim and Croat communities in eastern Bosnia to create an ethnically pure Serbian state. He denies any guilt – although he refused to enter a formal plea – and could face life in prison if convicted.
The campaign included the 44-month siege of the capital, Sarajevo, and the torture and murder of hundreds of prisoners in detention camps, and culminated in the massacre of around 8,000 Muslim males in one week in July 1995.
The massacre, in the Srebrenica enclave, was the worst in Europe since the second world war.
In his opening statement last October, the prosecutor Alan Tieger said Karadzic "harnessed the forces of nationalism, hatred and fear to pursue his vision of an ethnically segregated Bosnia".
Karadzic is the most important figure to be brought to trial since the former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, who died of a heart attack in 2006 before his case was concluded.
As president of the breakaway Bosnian Serb state, Karadzic negotiated with diplomats, UN officials and peace envoys. He set the tone and pace of the 1992-95 Bosnian war, in which an estimated 100,000 people died.
First indicted in 1995, he eluded a Nato manhunt for more than a decade but was caught in Belgrade, where he had been living as a new-age philosopher, in July 2008.
Karadzic – who is representing himself despite his lack of legal training – has persistently attempted to stall the trial.
He argued that he did not have enough time to study more than 1m pages of trial documents – 415,000 pages submitted by the prosecution since October alone – and that he was denied enough funding from the tribunal to pay an adequate legal staff to research his defence.
On Friday, the three-judge tribunal dismissed his request to adjourn the trial until June after his two-day opening statement and ordered prosecutors to present their first witness on Wednesday.
Karadzic boycotted the opening of the trial four months ago, prompting the court to suspend the case.
The judges appointed a veteran British defence lawyer, Richard Harvey, to represent Karadzic if he was deemed to again be "obstructing" the proceedings.
Karadzic, who has refused to co-operate with Harvey, pleaded for a delay because he "could not benefit" from his court-appointed lawyer.
In Friday’s ruling, the judges said his refusal to collaborate with Harvey "is a decision made by him and for which he must therefore bear the consequences".
The UN security council, which set up the tribunal in 1993, has ordered it not to open new cases. The tribunal has indicted 161 political and military officials, of which 40 cases are still continuing.
Two men are fugitives and could still be brought to trial in The Hague: Karadzic’s former top general, Ratko Mladic, and the Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic.
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