Serbia’s last major war crimes suspect has declined to enter a plea on charges over the 1991-1995 Croatian war, during his first appearance at the UN’s Yugoslav war crimes tribunal.
“Mr [Goran] Hadzic is not going to enter a plea today. He is going to avail himself of the rights granted to him ..,” Vladimir Petrovic, Hadzic’s duty counsel, told the court in The Hague on Monday.
Al Jazeera’s Emma Hayward, reporting from The Hague, said the hearing took less than 15 minutes.
“When he was asked to enter a plea he decided not to, which is within his right. He now has 30 days to give that plea, so we expect him back at the tribunal at the end of August.
“We now believe he has gone back to the UN custody suite, where he will work with his defence team on his case. He may not be as famous as some of the people who appeared before the tribunal, but he is no less important, a tribunal spokesman told me.”
The arrest of Hadzic, 52, and his transfer to The Hague last week was a symbolic moment for both Serbia and the Balkans region, ending an 18-year manhunt to detain all 161 suspects indicted by the Yugoslavia war crimes court.
The European Union has insisted that Serbia arrest all wanted war criminals before it grants candidate status for membership. It is due to issue a progress report in October.
Hadzic is charged with 14 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. These include the extermination, murder and wilful killing of hundreds of Croat and other non-Serb civilians – in particular, 264 hospital patients who were killed in Vukovar in 1991.
Judge O-Gon Kwon said that a second arraignment hearing would be scheduled within 30 days as Hadzic had not entered a plea.
On the run
Hadzic was on the run for seven years, outlasting the better known indicted war criminal from the 1990s breakup of Yugoslavia, Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic.
Serbian security officials arrested Hadzic about 65km north of Belgrade last week. He was allowed a visit from his family before his transfer to The Hague on Friday.
Few Serbs lamented Hadzic’s departure, in contrast to the public reaction to the arrest of Mladic in May and of Bosnian Serb wartime political chief Radovan Karadzic three years ago.