Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic will reappear before the UN war crimes tribunal later this month after his first skirmishes with the Netherlands-based court yesterday.
He was cut short by the judge when he tried to protest about his arrest, and put on notice that the prosecution will object to his demand to represent himself.
At his initial court session, Karadzic also claimed his seizure and trial violated a deal he made with the United States in 1996 that the case against him would be scrapped if he left politics and did not undermine the peace agreement that ended the Bosnian war.
Karadzic appeared at a plea hearing yesterday one day after he was extradited from Serbia to the custody of UN authorities to answer genocide and war crimes charges for the murder of thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats and for directing a reign of terror during the ethnic cleansing of the 1992-95 Bosnian war.
He declined to enter a plea to the 11 charges against him, and told the judge he intended to act as his own lawyer for the duration of the case.
However, prosecutor Alan Tieger asked the judge to caution Karadzic about the risks of conducting his own defence – an indication that the prosecution wanted to avoid a repeat of the much-criticised trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who died in jail in 2006 before his four-year trial ended.
“With all due respect to you personally, I will defend myself before this institution as I would defend myself before any natural catastrophe,” Karadzic told Judge Alphons Orie.
The judge scheduled a new hearing on August 29 at which Karadzic must enter pleas. If he does not, the court will enter not guilty pleas on his behalf.
It was the first time Karadzic was seen in public since he dropped out of sight more than a decade ago. He appeared thinner, greyer, but still defiant, self-confident and able to joke.
The full beard, long hair and loose white clothes that he wore when posing as a new age psychologist in Belgrade were replaced by a clean shave, fresh haircut and a business suit with a black briefcase.
“I’ve been in worse places,” he replied with a smile when the judge asked him about conditions at the UN jail.
Asked to state his last address before his arrest, Karadzic said officially he lived with his wife in Pale, Bosnia, but also gave a Belgrade address where he lived “in my other identity.”
When the judge asked him if his family knows his whereabouts, Karadzic smiled and replied: “I do not believe there is anyone who does not know that I am in the detention unit.”
Though dismissive of the court, Karadzic was respectful, stood at military attention when the judge entered the courtroom and sat motionless as Judge Orie summed up the charges against him.
However, his face showed frustration when Judge Orie refused to let him read a prepared four-page statement outlining “numerous irregularities,” including a claim that he was kidnapped three days before his announced arrest in Belgrade on July 21.
The judge cut him off when he began speaking about a deal he made with UN negotiator Richard Holbrooke in 1996, a year after he was indicted by the UN court in The Hague.
Judge Orie said the court would hear those complaints at the right time, but “the appropriate moment is not now.” He suggested Karadzic file a legal submission in writing.
In a July 26 interview with Germany’s Spiegel Online International, Mr Holbrooke was asked about the alleged deal with Karadzic.
“Those are lies I do not comment on any longer,” Mr Holbrooke said.
Hamayun Akbari, a British lawyer who was one of about 200 people watching the session from behind the glass of the public gallery, said Karadzic may have raised the issues of “irregularities” to support allegations later that he was not getting a fair trial.
“His behaviour was correct. At the same time, he wants to sabotage the proceedings,” said Mr Akbari, part of a group from the Hague Academy of International Law which received coveted seats.