Former Serb leader Karadzic: I deserve reward, not punishment

Former Serbian leader Radovan Karadzic is on trial at The Hague for 10 counts of genocide and crimes against humanity. He opened his defense today by saying he had done everything 'in human power' to avoid war.

Robin van Lonkhuijsen/Reuters
Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic sits in the courtroom on the first day of his defense against war crime charges at the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague, Tuesday, Oct. 16.

Accused Bosnian war criminal Radovan Karadzic opened his defense today at the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague, claiming that he was a "tolerant man" who had done "everything within human power to avoid the war and to reduce the human suffering."

Mr. Karadzic is on trial for 10 counts of genocide and crimes against humanity, including the 1995 massacre of more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica. But reading from a personal statement on Tuesday, the former Serbian leader told the court, "Instead of being accused for the events in our civil war, I should have been rewarded for all the good things I've done," reports BBC News. According to the translation of his statement, those deeds include:

"...that I did everything in human power to avoid the war; that I succeeded in reducing the suffering of all civilians; that the number of victims in our war was three to four times less than the numbers reported in the public; that I proclaimed numerous unilateral ceasefires and military containment, and I stopped our army many times when they were close to victory; that I constantly sought peace and accepted four out of five peace agreements; that I advocated, initiated, and implemented the humanization of the conflict by applying all measures of humanitarian nature; that in addition to my many presidential duties, I personally supervised the supply of humanitarian aid, ceasefires, and the honoring of international law of warfare, and thus I was the address for many successes of humanitarian actions. Also, I proclaimed and implemented many acts of mercy."

Karadzic is accused of being the mastermind behind the Bosnian genocide during the wars fought in the 1990s after the breakup of Yugoslavia. A trained psychiatrist and the first president of the Bosnian Serb government, he pushed a program of "ethnic purity" in the state that led to events like the Srebrencia massacre and tied the West in knots for much of the '90s. He was caught in 2008 in Belgrade, where he had been living in disguise and working at an alternative medicine clinic.

Although Karadzic is only one of several men blamed for the genocide in the Balkans -- along with the late Slobodan Milosevic and Gen. Ratko Mladic, both of whom have also appeared before the court at The Hague -- he is widely believed to be the ideological force behind the campaign, the Monitor reported at the time of his arrest.

Karadzic is particularly hated by Croats and Bosnian Muslims as a "true believer" in Serbian myths and ethnic superiority. Whereas Milosevic came to be understood as a cynical politician who simply wanted to exercise absolute power, Karadzic was seen by his victims as someone who zealously believed in his work.

"Karadzic is probably the most significant character in the saga of genocide in Bosnia," says Paul Williams of the Public International Law and Policy Group in Washington, and an adviser to Bosnia at [the Dayton Peace Accords]. "He is the most heinous figure. Milosevic was a criminal mastermind who didn't really care if he got what he wanted by genocide. For Milosevic, genocide was a means, not an objective. For Karadzic, it was an objective."

Charges against Karadzic and Mladic include genocide and war crimes for, among other things, executing Muslim intellectuals and publicly prominent citizens along the Drina River in 1992, sniping at civilians in Sarajevo, killing 8,000 civilians in the UN-protected Srebrenica "safe area," and holding UN peacekeepers hostage.

During the opening statements of his trial in 2010, Karadzic claimed that the massacres were either self-defense or lies on the part of Bosnians. He accused Bosnians in Sarajevo of shelling their own city and killing their own residents -- then packing the corpses into mass graves at Srebrenica -- in order to create world sympathy and to impugn the Serbs. The Monitor reported at the time that while Karadzic's account conflicted with all the known evidence of the genocide – Sabra Kolenovic, a representative of the Mothers of Srebrenica, said that Karadzic “should be given the Nobel Prize for lying” in his opening statement – some experts think that Karadzic nonetheless believes it.

James Swihart, a US State Department official and later ambassador, who was part of the European desk at the outbreak of the Bosnian conflict, argues that “I think Karadzic believes what he is saying...it's the war on terror...and for him, it is necessary to demonize, call them bad guys. It is despicable when he says it, but it is also being said in a simplistic ‘war on terror’ context today in the US and elsewhere that makes it seem plausible. The Bosnian Muslim identity was never very Islamic, but Karadzic doesn’t see it that way. He sees them as Turks that dominated the Balkans for 500 years.”

The Monitor was the first news outlet to publish evidence of the mass graves in Srebrenica in 1995. Then-staff writer David Rohde's stories are still available online.

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