THE HAGUE (Reuters) – The U.N. tribunal for the former Yugoslavia entered a plea of not guilty on behalf of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic for war crimes and genocide charges on Friday after he refused to plead.
At his second plea hearing before his trial for charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the 1992-95 Bosnian war, Karadzic refused to enter pleas for all of the 11 charges against him in front of presiding judge Iain Bonomy.
“I will not plead in line with my standpoint as regards to this court,” Karadzic answered to the first charge of genocide, referring to his refusal to recognize the court’s legitimacy.
Asked whether his position applied to all of the charges, Karadzic said: “Absolutely, yes.”
“In other words, your plea is one of not guilty to the indictment as a whole,” Bonomy declared during the proceeding, which lasted just under half an hour.
Karadzic appeared at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia wearing a dark suit and red tie and began by confirming his intent to represent himself. He said he was assembling a team of “associates” to aid him.
The charges against Karadzic, 63, include two of genocide over the 43-month siege of Sarajevo and the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslims at Srebrenica.
In a moment of levity, Karadzic asked Bonomy, “May I hold you to your word… that I’m not guilty?”
“We shall see in due course, Mr Karadzic,” Bonomy answered.
The trial is expected to start next year after procedural preparations. But as prosecutors intend to amend Karadzic’s 11-count indictment there could be further plea hearings, which would delay the start of the trial.
The prosecution team at the pretrial hearing said they planned to file an amended indictment by the end of September, a timeframe that Bonomy indicated was too late.
“I sincerely hope you’re not serious about that date,” Bonomy told prosecutors.
A pretrial status conference was scheduled for September 17.
Flanked by two court guards, Karadzic repeated his challenge to the court’s legitimacy and said that he feared for his life.
Karadzic has demanded that former U.S. peace mediator Richard Holbrooke and ex-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright give testimony, arguing that Holbrooke had offered him immunity from prosecution in a secret deal. Karadzic says Holbrooke reneged on the deal and now wants him dead, a claim that the former diplomat has denied repeatedly.
Bosnian political analyst Gojko Beric drew a parallel between Karadzic’s behavior and that of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who died two years ago in a Hague detention centre before a ruling was handed down in his trial.
“It is also obvious that the wartime leader of Bosnian Serbs, the same as Milosevic, will base his defence on ideological and political grounds, rather than on legal grounds,” he said.
But Bonomy, who chairs a working group aimed at speeding up tribunal trials, is expected to avoid lengthy proceedings like the Milosevic trial, which lasted four years and had nearly 300 witnesses.
Arrested in July in Belgrade with a flowing beard and long hair that disguised him while he worked as an alternative healer, Karadzic has shaved off the beard and cut his hair.
Reactions on the streets of Belgrade reflected the bitterness lingering well after the end of the Balkan conflicts.
“We can’t blame everything that happened on one person, five or even ten. They are all guilty,” Vladimir Beric said.