THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic made a defiant stand before a U.N. court preparing to try him on genocide charges, refusing to enter pleas Friday and branding the tribunal a NATO proxy out to "liquidate" him.
Judge Iain Bonomy entered not guilty pleas on Karadzic's behalf on 11 counts, which also include charges of crimes against humanity, allowing pretrial proceedings to proceed even though he rejects the court's legitimacy.
Karadzic is charged with genocide for allegedly masterminding atrocities, including the slaughter of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in July 1995 and the deadly siege of Sarajevo, when he was president of the breakaway Bosnian Serb republic.
He blended measured belligerence with sarcasm at his second appearance before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslav, declining to respond to an indictment that accused him of orchestrating Serb atrocities throughout Bosnia's 1992-95 war.
"This court is representing itself falsely as a court of the international community, whereas it is in fact a court of NATO whose aim is to liquidate me," Karadzic said. "I will not plead."
Bosnian Serbs count NATO as an enemy after the alliance launched a bombing campaign in August 1995, ultimately forcing the Serbs to negotiate an end to the war with the Dayton peace agreement.
Karadzic confirmed he intended to represent himself with a team of legal advisers, despite Bonomy's warning that the issues ahead would be complex and nuanced.
When the Scottish judge said the rules required him to plead not guilty on the defendant's behalf if Karadzic refused, Karadzic responded, "I would rather hear you say that at the end of the trial rather than the beginning."
The 25-minute hearing was a crucial step in Karadzic's case. He is accused of masterminding the worst atrocities perpetrated by Serb forces in the Bosnian war, which claimed the lives of an estimated 100,000 people, and of orchestrating the savage ethnic cleansing of Muslims and Croats to clear the way for a Bosnian Serb ministate.
It was Karadzic's first encounter with Bonomy, who also sat on the panel of judges during the latter half of the genocide trial of Slobodan Milosevic. The former Yugoslav president, who once was Karadzic's mentor, died of a heart attack in 2006 before his case concluded.
Bonomy was appointed to the case after Karadzic insisted on the removal of Dutch judge Alphons Orie, accusing him of bias at the first court hearing a month ago.
Karadzic, 63, one of the most familiar figures of the Balkan wars in the early 1990s, was arrested on a Belgrade bus July 21 while posing as a new-age guru. His disguise of a bushy beard and long white hair allowed him to move unrecognized through the Serbian capital despite being one of the world's most-wanted fugitives.
Survivors of the Bosnian war crowded into the court's public seating gallery to glimpse the man they say ruined their lives and it was a chilling experience for many of them.
"I had the feeling I was drowning," Munerva Avdic told Associated Press Television News. "And now that I'm talking to you I feel blood freezing in my veins."
Munira Subasic, president of the Mothers of Srebrenica group that represents survivors of the massacre, said seeing Karadzic prompted painful flashbacks. "In my mind I saw my son, my husband and 22 members of my family that were killed in Srebrenica," she said.
In two written submissions filed since he was turned over to the court July 30, Karadzic claimed he cannot get a fair trial because the court is not impartial and public opinion has been poisoned against him. He has called for his case to be dismissed. He also claimed he had been promised immunity in a secret deal with U.S. peace broker Richard Holbrooke if he disappeared and did not disrupt the agreement ending the Bosnian war.
Bonomy, who must oversee preparations for Karadzic's trial, scheduled a Sept. 17 hearing at which Karadzic will get a chance to air his objections. The judge also made it clear he will run the case with a firm hand.
Bonomy scolded prosecutors for being slow to amend the latest version of the indictment from 2000 to update it with evidence heard in other trials since then.
When Bonomy formally entered the not-guilty pleas, Karadzic said, "May I hold you to your word ... that I am not guilty?"
The judge replied dryly, "We shall see in due course, Mr. Karadzic."