Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader accused of the greatest mass murder in Europe in half a century, said on Monday that his people defended themselves against Islamic fundamentalists who started the war in Bosnia to lay claim to the entire country.
Outlining his defense at the resumption of his genocide trial, one of the last and largest cases brought to the U.N. war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Karadzic said his cause was "just and holy" and that he had a good case.
The former wartime leader traced the origins of the 1992-95 Bosnian war to the rejection by Bosnia's Muslim leadership of all power-sharing proposals.
Karadzic, 64, faces two counts of genocide and nine other counts of murder, extermination, persecution, forced deportation and the seizing of 200 U.N. hostages. He denies his guilt although he refused to volunteer a formal plea. He faces possible life imprisonment if convicted.
Prosecutors say Karadzic orchestrated a campaign to destroy the Muslim and Croat communities in eastern Bosnia to create an ethnically pure Serbian state. The campaign included the 44-month siege of the capital Sarajevo and the torture and murder of hundreds of prisoners in inhuman detention camps, and culminated in the massacre of some 8,000 Muslim males in one horrific week in July 1995 in the Srebrenica enclave, the worst bloodbath in Europe since World War II.
Karadzic "harnessed the forces of nationalism, hatred and fear to pursue his vision of an ethnically segregated Bosnia," said prosecutor Alan Tieger in his opening statement last October.
Karadzic is the most important figure to be brought to trial since former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who died of a heart attack in 2006 before his case was concluded. Karadzic, president of the breakaway Bosnian Serb state, negotiated with diplomats, U.N. officials and peace envoys; he appeared often in the media; and he set the tone and pace of the 1992-95 Bosnian war that killed an estimated 100,000 people.
First indicted in 1995, Karadzic eluded a NATO manhunt for more than a decade. He was caught in July 2008 in Belgrade, where he had been living as a new-age philosopher.
Karadzic, who is representing himself despite his lack of legal training, has persistently tried to stall the trial. He argued he did not have enough time to study more than 1 million pages of trial documents — 415,000 pages submitted by the prosecution since last October alone — and that he was denied enough funding from the tribunal to pay an adequate legal staff to research his defense.
On Friday, the three-judge tribunal dismissed Karadzic's 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 his trial four months ago, prompting the court to suspend the case. The judges appointed a veteran British defense attorney, Richard Harvey, to represent Karadzic if he was deemed to again be "obstructing" the proceedings. Karadzic has refused to cooperate with Harvey and pleaded for a delay because he "could not benefit" from his court-appointed lawyer.
The judges derided that argument in Friday's ruling, saying that his refusal to collaborate with Harvey "is a decision made by him and for which he must therefore bear the consequences."
The U.N. 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 Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic.