THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Radovan Karadzic appeared at his U.N. war crimes trial on Tuesday for the first time since it began last week, claiming his “fundamental rights have been violated” by judges who started without him.
The former Bosnian Serb leader, accused of masterminding Serb atrocities throughout the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, had boycotted the first three days of the trial. On Tuesday, Karadzic, who is defending himself, again insisted that he needed more time to prepare.
“I do not want to boycott these proceedings, but I cannot take part in something that has been bad from the start and where my fundamental rights have been violated,” Karadzic said.
Karadzic faces two counts of genocide and nine other charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes. He has refused to enter pleas, but insists he is innocent of all charges.
The prosecution’s two-day opening statement portrayed Karadzic as the supreme commander of a brutal campaign to ethnically cleanse Muslims and Croats from Bosnian Serb claimed territory. The campaign included the deadly 44-month siege of the capital, Sarajevo, and culminated in the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the eastern enclave of Srebrenica.
Prosecutor Hildegard Uertz-Retzlaff urged judges to impose a court-appointed lawyer on Karadzic so that the case can continue even if he continues his boycott.
“Mr. Karadzic cannot be allowed to manipulate the proceedings through his decision to not attend hearings,” she said.
However, she acknowledged that if a new lawyer is appointed to represent Karadzic, the attorney may need months to prepare.
She told judges they could also force Karadzic into court if he continues his boycott.
“If necessary, force can be used to secure his presence in the court room,” she said.
Presiding Judge O-Gon Kwon said judges would issue a written ruling later in the week on how to proceed. He cancelled a trial hearing scheduled for Wednesday and adjourned the trial pending the ruling.
The war crimes court is desperate to avoid Karadzic’s trial becoming a carbon copy of the case against his political mentor, former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, whose political grandstanding, stalling tactics and ill health dragged his trial out for more than four years.
Milosevic’s trial ended without a verdict in 2006 after he died of a heart attack in his U.N. jail cell.
Milosevic also defended himself, and when the war crimes court forced a defence lawyer on him in an attempt to speed up proceedings Milosevic refused to co-operate with him.
Karadzic says he has not had enough time to prepare his defence – even though he was indicted in 1995 and has been in custody for 14 months.
“The situation is such that I would really be a criminal if I were to accept these conditions – to enter a trial for which I am not prepared,” he said.
Karadzic said prosecutors have loaded him down with 1.3 million pages of evidence and that he only has been able to work on his defence since May, when he got all the evidence from prosecutors.
He said he was not ready to deal with the first three prosecution witness, who were to have testified this week, or to make an opening statement.
And he rejected the proposal of having a lawyer appointed by the court to represent him.
“I don’t need other people, I just need time,” he said. “It would be cheapest and easiest, with fewest problems to give me more time to prepare.”
But Kwon said Karadzic was repeating claims he has made in pretrial hearings and in motions that have already been rejected by trial and appeal judges. He signalled the court is unlikely to grant him any more time.
“At the end of the day, I again remind you that it is in your best interest to attend and participate fully in the trial so that justice can be done,” Kwon said.