Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic insisted Monday that Serb forces acted only in self-defense during Bosnia’s bloody 1992-95 conflict as he called on appeals judges to overturn his multiple convictions and 40-year sentence for masterminding Serb atrocities throughout the war.
Karadzic and his legal team argued that prosecutors and trial judges committed a string of legal and procedural errors during his lengthy U.N. trial.
“Certain statements were misused, rights were neglected, facts were distorted and motives were concealed,” Karadzic told a five-judge panel. “The consequences of this entire conduct were then portrayed as sheer madness.”
The 72-year-old former Bosnian Serb strongman said that after studying all the evidence and defense arguments, “I believe that the chamber … will find this judgment unsafe and quash it.”
Karadzic is one of the most senior leaders from the Balkan wars of the 1990s to be convicted at a U.N. tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. He was found guilty in March 2016 of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for his involvement in crimes including the deadly siege of Sarajevo and the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica of around 8,000 Muslim men and boys, Europe’s worst massacre since World War II.
Now, the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, a court set up to deal with cases arising from international tribunals that have now closed, is hearing appeals both by Karadzic and by prosecutors, who argue that he should have been convicted on two counts of genocide and given a life sentence. Judges will likely take months to reach a decision.
Defense lawyers said that trial judges denied Karadzic the right to testify in his own defense in the manner he wanted – by giving a narrative account of his version of events. Attorney Kate Gibson said that denial was a procedural error “so fundamental, so manifest that alone it warrants a retrial.”
Prosecution lawyer Katrina Gustafson rejected the assertion, telling judges that during his trial Karadzic “didn’t challenge the ruling that he was to testify in question and answer format.”
Karadzic used his comments Monday to present his side of the war, underscoring his longtime contention that Serbs acted in self-defense and accusing trial judges of ignoring testimony of his defense witnesses.
“There is so much evidence that our strategy was not offensive,” he said. “Our strategy was defensive in all of Bosnia. The territories were not taken by force.”
In total, Karadzic raised 50 grounds of appeal in a lengthy written document. The appeals hearing is the latest legal twist in Karadzic’s long fight to clear his name. In a separate case, his former military chief, Gen. Ratko Mladic, also is appealing his 2017 convictions and life sentence based on a near-identical indictment.
Munira Subasic, who leads an organization called the Mothers of Srebrenica, said Karadzic should have used the hearing to apologize.
“But the lies he told today, the statements he made today – it all left me in state of shock,” she told Al Jazeera Balkans.
She said Karadzic is seeking to blame Mladic, “But in fact, the truth is that he [Karadzic] created Mladic, he was the man in charge, he was commander-in-chief.”