Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic appeared at the U.N.'s Yugoslav war crimes tribunal for the first time Thursday, telling the judge he would defend himself against charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Shorn of the long white hair and bushy beard that disguised him as a new age guru during at least part of his 13 years as a fugitive, Karadzic wore a dark suit and tie for the hearing to enter pleas in the 11 counts against him.
"I have an invisible adviser but I have decided to represent myself," he calmly told presiding judge Alphons Orie.
Karadzic listened intently as Orie read a summary of the indictment in which prosecutors allege Karadzic masterminded atrocities, including the Srebrenica massacre and siege of Sarajevo during Bosnia's 1992-95 war.
Karadzic then identified himself by stating his name, date and place of birth. He also gave his most recent address as his family home in Pale, Bosnia, but also gave the address of the apartment in Belgrade where he was living under an assumed name before his address.
When Orie asked him if his family knew where he was being held, Karadzic replied "I do not believe there is anyone who does not know that I am in the detention unit."
Rape and torture
Prosecutors say he was responsible for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys, a deadly 44-month siege of Sarajevo and establishment of internment camps where non-Serbs were tortured, raped and murdered.
If convicted, the 63-year-old Karadzic faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
It is the first public appearance for Karadzic since his arrest July 21 on a Belgrade bus. At the time, he was virtually unrecognizable, his face hidden behind a heavy white beard.
A photo reportedly taken while he was in custody in Belgrade and published in Serbian newspaper Blic shows him with a shave and haircut. The years since the Bosnian conflict ended has turned his hair from salt and pepper to silvery gray.
Karadzic’s Belgrade-based lawyer has said Karadzic plans to ask for the maximum 30 days before entering a plea to the charges. If he fails to plead within that time, Orie will enter not-guilty pleas on all counts.
Karadzic’s arrival in the Netherlands on Wednesday aboard a Serbian government business jet marked the end of a 13-year effort by the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal to get hold of its most wanted war crimes suspect.
For Srebrenica survivors, just seeing Karadzic in court will be painful.
“Every time something happens, old wounds get opened and they are confronted with the things that happened in 1995,” said Marco Gerritsen, lawyer for “The Mothers of Srebrenica,” survivors of Europe’s worst mass murder since World War II.
Convicting him of genocide will be difficult, requiring proof of a deliberate intention to eradicate a specific ethnic group, in whole or in part.
Since the tribunal’s inception in 1993, a genocide-related charge has held up through the appeals process only once, when Radislav Krstic was convicted of aiding and abetting genocide.
Judges are unlikely to find a smoking gun, such as written orders for Muslims and Croats to be wiped out, said professor Ton Zwaan of Amsterdam University’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, prosecutor Serge Brammertz conceded the case would not be easy, but said his team would draw on evidence already presented in other cases since Karadzic’s original 1995 indictment.
They are expected to update the indictment before the trial begins.
“We will ensure that it reflects the current case law, facts already established by the court and evidence collected over the past eight years,” he said.
It will take months for both sides to prepare for the trial, Brammertz said.
Ratko Mladic, Karadzic’s military chief during the war, is one of only two remaining fugitives indicted by the tribunal. The other is Goran Hadzic, a Croatian Serb leader.