THE HAGUE: Convicted criminal Radovan Karadzic on Tuesday accused Bosnian Muslims of “declaring war” on Serbs, insisting at his appeal before a UN tribunal that he had worked for peace in the Balkans.
The prosecution’s case against him was “upside down, the wrong way up,” Karadzic insisted, on the second and final day of his appeal in The Hague.
The once-feared Bosnian Serb leader is urging the judges to throw out his 2016 conviction for war crimes and genocide, and either acquit him or order a new trial.
“Nothing in these proceedings that was alleged is true,” he said in an animated personal address to the judges, saying it meant “that the conflict between us will persist.”
In March 2016, Karadzic was sentenced to 40 years in jail for his role in the bloodshed during the Bosnian war which left 100,000 people dead and 2.2 million others homeless, amid the ethnic conflict which tore the former Yugoslavia apart.
He was found guilty of 10 charges, including genocide in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre — Europe’s worst bloodshed since World War II, when some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were separated from their families, shot and killed, their bodies dumped in mass graves.
Karadzic was also convicted of orchestrating the 44-month siege of Sarajevo in which some 10,000 people died under relentless sniping and shelling.
But Karadzic, 72, insisted the city had been a stronghold of the Bosnian Muslim army “whose aim was to take over all of the city” and expel the Bosnian Serbs.
“We were the ones on whom war was declared, defense is legitimate,” he added.
“We never had anything against Muslims, we considered them Serbs with a Muslim religion,” he said, adding: “Serbs, Muslims, Croats, we are one people, we have one identity.”
“Our main wish was for the Muslims to remain with us in Yugoslavia,” he said, adding it was the Bosnian Muslims who wanted to secede.
“How is it possible not to see that Serbs in Sarajevo and in Bosnia-Hercegovina were in favor of peace? They made desperate concessions,” he said.
The former strongman has lodged 50 grounds of appeal after he was convicted by trial judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
But prosecutors insist Karadzic “abused his immense power to spill the blood of innocent civilians,” and urged the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) — which has taken over from the ICTY — to impose “the highest possible sentence, a life sentence.”
The prosecution is also urging judges to reverse his acquittal on a second charge of genocide in Bosnian municipalities and find him guilty instead.
“Karadzic and his associates knew they would need to spill rivers of blood to carve out the ethnically homogenous territory and they sought and they embraced this bloody path,” said prosecutor Katrina Gustafson.
He “threatened non-Serbs with extinction and annihilation … and incited inter-ethnic fear and hatred,” she said.
“He set the stage for a criminal campaign of a genocidal nature, aimed at destroying the targeted community,” Gustafson added. Once it got underway, “Karadzic oversaw it from the apex of power.”
Presiding judge Theodor Meron closed the hearing saying he and the four other judges would hand down their ruling “in due course.”
After years on the run, Karadzic was caught in 2008 on a Belgrade bus, disguised as a faith healer. He was handed over to The Hague and his trial opened in October 2009, lasting until October 2014.
He is the highest-ranked person to be convicted and sentenced at the ICTY, after Serbian ex-president Slobodan Milosevic died in 2006 while on trial.
Documents released Tuesday showed the court has freed on health grounds Bosnian Croat policeman Berislav Pusic, who was a member of the self-proclaimed Bosnian Croat state of Herceg-Bosna.
Pusic’s 10-year sentence imposed for atrocities against Bosnian Muslims was upheld on appeal in December, but Meron approved his release after serving almost two-thirds of his term, saying “his health condition is a factor generally weighing in favor of his early release.”