The war crimes trial of Radovan Karadzic has gone ahead without him, with prosecutors branding him “supreme commander” of ethnic cleansing during the 1992-95 conflict in Bosnia.
“This case is about that supreme commander, a man who harnessed the forces of nationalism, hatred and fear to implement his vision of an ethnically separated Bosnia: Radovan Karadzic,” prosecutor Alain Tieger told the court.
Earlier, presiding judge O-Gon Kwon said Karadzic had chosen not to exercise his right to be present and “must therefore accept the consequences”.
“The chamber is of the view that this hearing can proceed in his absence,” said Kwon, opening the hearing at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) reopened.
The former Bosnian Serb leader, who is conducting his own defence, is boycotting the trial, demanding more time to prepare his case.
The 64-year-old faces 11 charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the 1992-95 Bosnian war in which 100,000 people were killed and some 2.2 million displaced.
He denies all charges ,but faces life imprisonment if convicted.
Karadzic ‘frustrating proceedings’
Karadizic’s successor Biljana Plavsic, meanwhile, arrived back in Belgrade on Tuesday after the UN war crimes court ordered her early release from prison in Sweden.
Plavsic, 79, was sentenced in February 2003 to 11 years behind bars after she admitted playing a leading role in persecuting Croats and Muslims during the Bosnian war.
She is the highest ranking official from the former Yugoslavia to have acknowledged responsibility for atrocities committed during in the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
Kwon on Monday warned Karadzic of “measures that can be taken should he continue to obstruct the progress of the trial”. This may include imposing a defence lawyer on him or proceeding in his absence.
But after meeting Karadzic in jail, his legal adviser Marco Sladojevic said the former leader of the self-proclaimed Bosnian Serb republic “would not appear” before the court on Tuesday as he needed more time to study a million pages of prosecution evidence and hundreds of witness statements.
Sladojevic added that Karadzic “will never accept any imposed counsel” as demanded by the prosecution, who has accused him of trying to “frustrate the proceedings”.
International law professor Willem van Genugten of the Tilburg University in the Netherlands, said the judges appeared to be buying time in adjourning the trial for a day in a bid to “lure Karadzic to the court”.
Months of legal wrangling ahead
While they had threatened to impose a lawyer on him, actually doing so could mean months of legal wrangling, he said.
The court has denied repeated requests by Karadzic for a months-long delay in the start of the trial.
“If Karadzic is not there tomorrow, the judges may have no choice but to start negotiating with him for a delay,” Van Genugten said, as allowing the prosecution to make its opening statement in Karadzic’s absence may give him grounds for a later appeal.
Karadzic stands accused of having “participated in an over-arching joint criminal enterprise to permanently remove Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat inhabitants from the territories of Bosnia-Hercegovina claimed as Bosnian Serb territory”, according to the charge sheet.
Key among the charges is the massacre of more than 7000 Muslim men and boys at the UN-protected enclave of Srebrenica in July 1995, as well as the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that ended in November 1995.
He is alleged to have worked with Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic, who died midway through his own UN genocide trial in March 2006.
Karadzic’s former military commander, Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic, is still on the run.