Netherlands: UN prosecutors opened their genocide case against Radovan Karadzic on Tuesday — despite his continued boycott of the case — calling him the "undisputed leader" and "supreme commander" of Serbs responsible for atrocities throughout Bosnia`s brutal four-year war.
Yugoslav war crimes tribunal judges ruled that the case could start despite Karadzic`s refusal to attend for the second straight day. Karadzic, who is defending himself, claims he has not had enough time to prepare.
With the defendant`s chair empty, prosecutor Alan Tieger said Karadzic "harnessed the forces of nationalism, hatred and fear to pursue his vision of an ethnically segregated Bosnia."
Dozens of war survivors crowded into the courtroom`s public gallery and other rooms set aside for them at the tribunal to watch the trial. As the case began they whispered to one another, but gradually fell silent as Tieger began his opening statement.
Outside the court during a break in proceedings, Esnaf Moujic, 42, said he was disappointed Karadzic was not in court.
"Again, it is Karadzic who is dictating what happens," said Moujic, who fled the Bosnian town of Bratunac in April 1992 with his wife and child and now lives in the Netherlands. "He decided in 1992 and again now."
Moujic said hearing the prosecutor recount the beginnings of the Bosnian war was painful, even though it told him nothing he did not already know. "It is shocking to come here," he said. "You relive the images of how it was back in `92."
Presiding judge O-Gon Kwon said he regretted Karadzic`s decision not to attend the hearing and will consider imposing a lawyer to represent him if he continues to boycott the proceedings.
Karadzic faces 11 charges — two genocide counts and nine other war crimes and crimes against humanity. He has refused to enter pleas, but insists he is innocent. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Kwon said he had warned Karadzic he must accept the consequences of refusing to be at his trial. The three-judge panel will decide how to proceed next week after the prosecution finishes its opening statement.
Prosecutors allege Karadzic was the driving force behind atrocities beginning with the ethnic cleansing of towns and villages to create an ethnically pure Serb state in 1992 and culminating in Europe`s worst massacre since World War II, in Srebrenica in 1995.
The Bosnian war left more than 100,000 people dead, most of them victims of Bosnian Serb attacks.
Karadzic`s whereabouts were unknown until his arrest last year after 13 years on the run. When he was captured he was posing as New Age healer Dr. Dragan Dabic, disguised behind thick glasses, a bushy beard and straggly gray hair.
Tieger said some of the evidence against Karadzic would come from the defendant himself, in the form of telephone intercepts and transcripts of his speeches to Bosnian Serb lawmakers during the war. Insiders, international observers and victims of Bosnian Serb crimes that were the bloody hallmark of the 1992-95 war will testify, he said.
He mentioned Biljana Plavsic as one of Karadzic`s key collaborators. Earlier Tuesday, Plavsic — the only woman among the 161 people indicted by the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia — was released from a Swedish prison after serving two-thirds of an 11-year sentence for war crimes.
Tieger quoted Karadzic as saying before the war that Serb forces would turn the Bosnian capital Sarajevo into "a black cauldron, where 300,000 Muslims will die." He said witnesses who survived the deadly 44-month siege of the city would describe living "in constant fear, day after day, for years, knowing that they or their loved ones were targets."
The prosecution will call other witnesses from Srebrenica, where Bosnian Serb forces killed more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys in July 1995, he said. They were "victims who miraculously survived by feigning death" and mothers who "tried in vain to shield their boys from being taken to the killing fields."