Karadzic calls Serb cause in Bosnian war 'just and holy'

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has begun his defence at an international war crimes trial at The Hague, where he faces charges including genocide for his part in the 1992-95 Bosnian war.


Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic strongly defended his actions during his opening statement at his trial at The Hague on Monday.

Karadzic called the Serb cause in the 1992-95 Bosnian war “just and holy”, arguing that Bosnian Serbs were not to blame for the war, which he described as a natural consequence of the break-up of Yugoslavia. He accused Bosnian Muslims of rejecting power-sharing agreements in order to carve out an Islamic fundamentalist state.

"Everything that Serbs did is being treated as a crime”, he said. "Yugoslavia could only be broken up in war."

That war between ethnic Serbs, Muslims and Croats killed an estimated 100,000 people and displaced some two million. Prosecutors say Karadzic was responsible for horrific atrocities, including the ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims. He is being charged with 11 counts, including two of genocide. If convicted, he will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Covering the trial at The Hague, GRN correspondent for FRANCE 24 Deon De Lange said that Karadzic’s defence could be “summarized quite simply as ‘They did it’, and by ‘they’ he means Bosnian Muslims”.

“He likened the Muslims in Bosnia to those who joined the SS during World War 2” and “drew links between them and the Iranian revolution, claiming Muslims in Bosnia wanted to establish an Islamic republic and thus gain a foothold in Europe”, reported De Lange.

Karadzic, who has chosen to represent himself in court, sat in a dark suit and tie and read in Serbian from a computer screen. He used videos, images and quotes from documents to present his case.

Deon De Lange reports from the Hague, Netherlands

Karadzic’s legal counsel Peter Robinson spoke to FRANCE 24 just after the day’s proceedings. He said that Karadzic had not yet had an opportunity to present his side, and that today’s events were a first step towards giving the defendant a fair trial.

“I'm really trying to help him get a fair trial at this tribunal, that’s been a full-time job”, he said, expressing satisfaction that Karadzic “had a chance to express himself fully and present his side of the story”.

He had been waiting “15 years” to be able to do so, said Robinson. Two days have been scheduled for Karadzic’s opening statement.

Srebrenica and Sarajevo

FRANCE 24’s International Affairs Editor Armen Georgian notes that Karadzic’s statement dissects “Bosnia’s slide into war, retracing that period – from 1990 to 1992 – when the war actually began”.

Karadzic is trying to prove that “far from being a warmonger, (he) actually tried to stop Bosnia from sliding into war”, said Georgian.

The prosecution is hoping to convict Karadzic for his actions on two specific events.

“The Srebrenica massacre and the shelling of Sarajevo, are the two key events in the Bosnian war in which they're hoping to convict Karadzic”, said Georgian, referring to the killing of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica village in July 1995, and the 43-month siege of the capital Sarajevo.

Delayed trial

The trial has been adjourned since last November, when Karadzic boycotted the proceedings.

“This (delay) will obviously worry the prosecution, because the ghost of Slobodan Milosevic hangs over this trial. The former Yugoslav president was never convicted, he died during his trial”, says Georgian.

With this precedent in mind, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has appointed barrister Richard Harvey to represent Karadzic. The court has told him that Harvey would take over if he chose to boycott the trial again.

Karadzic was arrested in 2008 in Belgrade, where he had been hiding under an alias and working as an alternative healer.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning