Karadzic boycotts war crimes trial

THE HAGUE: Radovan Karadzic boycotted the opening day of his war crimes trial today and sent no lawyer to defend himself, forcing judges to abruptly adjourn the hearing.

Judges then vowed that the former Bosnian Serb leader’s trial would begin tomorrow with or without him.

The decision enraged survivors who had travelled by bus from Bosnia to see Karadzic finally face justice. A small group briefly refused to leave the courtroom after the adjournment and one woman threatened a hunger strike.

Karadzic stayed away from the hearing, claiming he has not had enough time to prepare. He has been in custody and working on his defence since his arrest on a Belgrade bus in July 2008.

Karadzic, one of the central figures of the Balkan wars triggered by the breakup of ugoslavia, faces two counts of genocide and nine other charges or war crimes and crimes against humanity. His trial is the most important war crimes case in the former Yugoslavia since the uncompleted trial of his mentor, Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav president who died during his trial in 2006. Karadzic, who evaded capture for 13 years, has repeatedly refused to enter pleas, but insists he is innocent. He faces a maximum life sentence if convicted at his trial. Judge O-Gon Kwon said in the absence of Karadzic, who was defending himself, or any lawyer representing him, he was suspending the case until tomorrow afternoon, when the prosecution would begin its opening statement.

Court spokeswoman Nerma Jelacic said the delay was to give Karadzic time to reconsider his boycott. Judges “have figured out what they are going to do: They are going to start with or without him,” she said.

In a letter dated on Friday and released after the proceedings began today, Karadzic again pleaded for more time. “I would and never will boycott my trial, but if I am not prepared that would not be a trial at all,” he wrote. “There must be a fair solution.” Prosecutor Hildegard Uertz-Retzlaff urged judges to appoint a defence attorney to represent Karadzic whether he likes it or not, saying he should not be able to deliberately hold up the trial.

The only sign of Karadzic in the courtroom was a pair of headphones lying on the desk where he has sat during pretrial proceedings.

The suspension brought cries of anguish and anger from the small public gallery that was packed with survivors of the war and media.