Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Karadzic arrest boosts Balkans, international justice

The Bosnian Serb leader, indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal on 15 counts including genocide, had been on the run for 13 years.

(Page 2 of 2)

"Taking Karadzic is probably easier than arresting Mladic, who is a military leader," says Quintin Hoare, who is with the Bosnian Institute in London. "Karadzic is on the same wavelength as Kostunica. He's not a military type. The Serb army may have trouble with Mladic's arrest. So of the two big obstacles to European accession for Serbia, this is the easier choice."

Skip to next paragraph

Milosevic's right-hand man

Karadzic will be forever associated with the breakup of Yugoslavia. After the cold war ended, the Yugoslav tragedy interrupted the triumphant story of 'the end of history' by bringing a terrible slaughter among ethnic groups, largely orchestrated in Belgrade by Slobodan Milosevic, experts say. Bosnia and Sarajevo, site of the 1984 Olympics, were not well known; the intermarriage rate among Croats, Muslims, and Serbs in the city was more than 50 percent.

Into that post-cold-war moment arrived Serb nationalists like Karadzic, considered the right-hand man of Milosevic. Mr. Milosevic, who died while on trial in The Hague in 2006, brought a brutal "greater Serbia" campaign that sought territory in Croatia and Bosnia by killing or ejecting non-Serbs.

Karadzic, who ran a psychiatric practice in Sarajevo, founded the Serbian Democratic Party, and became president of the so-called Srbska Republik. After Serbs laid siege to the city, Karadzic moved his headquarters to the suburb of Pale, in May of 1992. Karadzic often showed Western reporters maps of Bosnia with large zones where he said Serbs used to be a majority – one rationale for claiming a right to retake those lands.

Hated as a 'true believer' in racism

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 Dayton. "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.

Human rights groups say that putting accused leaders like former Liberian President Charles Taylor, Milosevic, and now Karadzic in the dock at Hague tribunals adds credibility to the argument that times are changing in the field of international justice.

"This sends a strong message to Bashir in Sudan, that while there might be support in the short term from Russia and China, it will ultimately fade," says Professor Williams.

One little regarded but important aspect of a Karadzic trial may be the testimony he gives about talks with such diplomats as Douglas Hurd and Lord Owen of Britain, Cyrus Vance of the US, and others with whom he secured peace deals and cease-fires.

Tribunals: making headway?

The capture of Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader, leaves two fugitives still wanted by the UN-run Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal.

The tribunal, created in 1993, has indicted 161 people for "serious violations of international humanitarian law." Of those, 56 people were found guilty and sentenced, 10 were acquitted, and 36 cases were dropped or the accused died. The rest are in various stages of trial.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, established in 1995, has arrested more than 70 individuals and tried several. Thirteen individuals indicted by the ICTR remain at large.

In addition to these ad hoc tribunals, the International Criminal Court was established in 2002 as the world's first permanent war crimes court. To date, 12 arrest warrants have been issued. Another is being reviewed by the ICC for Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir for war crimes and criminal responsibility for genocide committed in Darfur. Seven of the accused are at large.

Sources: ICC, ICTR, ICTY.