Karadzic to appear at war crimes plea hearing

World gets first look at former Bosnian Serb leader since his nearly 13 years as a fugitive from genocide charges.

Karadzic 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Karadzic 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The world gets its first look Thursday at former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, shorn of the bushy beard and long hair that disguised him as a new age guru during at least part of his nearly 13 years as a fugitive from genocide charges. Karadzic appears before Dutch judge Alphons Orie at the UN's Yugoslav war crimes tribunal, the first step in a legal process that could take several years. He will be asked to enter pleas on 11 charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for allegedly masterminding atrocities throughout Bosnia's 1992-95 war. Prosecutors say he was responsible for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys, the deadly 44-month siege of Sarajevo and the establishment of a network of internment camps where non-Serbs were routinely tortured, raped and murdered. If convicted, 63-year-old Karadzic faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. It is the first public appearance for Karadzic since his arrest July 21 on a Belgrade bus. At the time, he was virtually unrecognizable, his face hidden behind a heavy white beard. A photo reportedly taken while he was in custody in Belgrade and published in Serbian newspaper Blic shows Karadzic with a shave and haircut reverting to a tame swept-back style, but which is closer to his trademark look when he was the urbane face of a monstrous regime. The years since the Bosnian conflict ended has turned his hair from salt and pepper to silvery gray. At Thursday's hearing in a packed courtroom, Orie will ask Karadzic to confirm his identity and offer to read him his 11-count indictment before asking him if he wishes to enter pleas to the charges. Karadzic's Belgrade-based lawyer has said Karadzic plans to ask for the maximum 30 days before entering a plea to the charges. If he fails to plead within that time, Orie will enter not-guilty pleas on all counts. Karadzic's arrival in the Netherlands on Wednesday aboard a Serbian government business jet marked the end of a 13-year effort by the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal to get hold of its most wanted war crimes suspect. Convicting him of genocide will be difficult, requiring proof of a deliberate intention to eradicate a specific ethnic group, in whole or in part. Since the tribunal's inception in 1993, a genocide-related charge has held up through the appeals process only once, when Radislav Krstic was convicted of aiding and abetting genocide. Judges are unlikely to find a smoking gun, such as written orders for Muslims and Croats to be wiped out, said professor Ton Zwaan of Amsterdam University's Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Speaking to reporters Wednesday, prosecutor Serge Brammertz conceded the case would not be easy, but said his team would draw on evidence already presented in other cases since Karadzic's original 1995 indictment. They are expected to update the indictment before the trial begins. "We will ensure that it reflects the current case law, facts already established by the court and evidence collected over the past eight years," he said. It will take months for both sides to prepare for the trial, Brammertz said.