The Hague (AFP) – 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, waving his hands for emphasis, as he starkly warned “and that is a guarantee that the conflict between us will persist”.
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, as ethnic conflict 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.
– ‘Nothing against Muslims’ –
Karadzic was also convicted of the war crime of orchestrating the 44-month siege of Sarajevo in which some 10,000 people died under relentless sniping and shelling.
But Karadzic, 72, insisted Bosnian Serbs were merely defending themselves.
“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.
It was the Bosnian Muslims who wanted to secede and who attacked the Bosnian Serbs, he claimed, leaving the Serbs with no choice but to defend themselves.
“How is it possible not to see that Serbs in Sarajevo and in Bosnia-Hercegovina were in favour of peace? They made desperate concessions and backed down,” he said.
He also dismissed the prosecution claim that 30,000 to 40,000 shells had been fired on the Bosnian capital from just one artillery position.
If that had been the case “Sarajevo would look worse than Dresden” — the German city virtually destroyed in an Allied bombing in World War II — and would have “been razed to the ground,” 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).
– Blood of innocents –
Prosecutors insist Karadzic had “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”.
Karadzic “threatened non-Serbs with extinction and annihilation, with dire warnings of a looming genocidal threat, and incited inter-ethnic fear and hatred,” said prosecutor Katrina Gustafson.
“He set the stage for a criminal campaign of a genocidal nature, aimed at destroying the targeted community,” she added.
“And once that was underway, Karadzic oversaw it from the apex of power,” she added.
The prosecution has also appealed, calling for judges to reverse the Bosnian Serb leader’s acquittal on a second charge of genocide in Bosnian municipalities and find him guilty instead.
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.