Bosnian Serb Leader Radovan Karadžić Sentenced to 40 Years in Prison by Stephen Schwartz

The Weekly Standard Blog  March 25, 2016

The flag of the Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina.

The flag of the Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Radovan Karadžić has been convicted and sentenced to 40 years’ imprisonment for genocide and other crimes, by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. He was the political leader of radical nationalist Serbs in Bosnia-Hercegovina during the 1992-95 war that split that newly independent country.

The verdict held Karadžić culpable for genocide, five counts of crimes against humanity, and four of war crimes, as president of the breakaway “Republic of Serbs” (Republika Srpska or RS) in Bosnia and head of its armed forces, the VRS.

The main charges against him involved the 1995 massacre of an estimated 8,000 Muslim men and boys at the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica, which was deemed a genocidal act by the court, and the long siege of Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital.

At Srebrenica, according to the ICTY, “Following the take-over [by Bosnian Serb Forces] in July 1995, ordered by Karadžić, approximately 30,000 Bosnian Muslim women, children, and elderly men were forcibly removed from the enclave to Bosnian Muslim-held territory. The Chamber found that Karadžić had the intent to permanently and forcibly remove the Bosnian Muslim population from Srebrenica. After the take-over, Bosnian Serb Forces detained the Bosnian Muslim men and boys in a number of locations in the area. Beginning on 13 July 1995 and over the following days, the detained men were taken to nearby sites where they were executed.”

The ICTY declared that Karadžić, as political and military chief of the Bosnian Serbs, “was the sole person within the [Serb-occupied zone] with the power to intervene to prevent the Bosnian Muslim males from being killed.” The court further blamed Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladić, who is on trial in a separate ICTY proceeding, for sharing the intent of Karadžić to liquidate the Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica as such.

In the encirclement of Sarajevo, presiding judge O-Gon Kwon described how “Sarajevo civilians were sniped [at] while fetching water, walking in the city, and when using public transport. Children were sniped at while playing in front of their houses, walking with their parents or walking home from school.”

Burning of the National and University Library of Bosnia-Hercegovina by Serbian shelling, Sarajevo, 1992.

Burning of the National and University Library of Bosnia-Hercegovina by Serbian shelling, Sarajevo, 1992.

The ICTY determined both actions, at Srebrenica and Sarajevo, were undertaken as part of joint criminal enterprises (JCEs).

In the language of the tribunal, the JCEs comprised “persecution, extermination, murder, deportation, inhumane acts (forcible transfer), terror, unlawful attacks on civilians and hostage-taking… The Overarching JCE, which existed between October 1991 and November 1995, included a common plan to permanently remove Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory,” the tribunal stated. While the atrocities at Sarajevo and Srebrenica were held to be weightiest, Karadžić was judged guilty in two more JCEs, one based on the holding of United Nations personnel as hostages, a war crime, and another involving expulsion of Bosnian Croats and Muslims from local communities.

Drawing a fine line, the court announced that in the local communities aside from Srebrenica, “Karadžić is guilty of persecution, extermination, deportation, forcible transfer and murder. The Chamber was, however, unable to identify or infer genocidal intent and therefore did not have sufficient evidence to find, beyond reasonable doubt, that genocide was committed.”

Karadžić acted as his own attorney throughout the trial. Both Karadžić and the tribunal have the right to appeal the verdict. Karadžić must file his before 30 days have elapsed, and the proceeding will take some three years more. The Guardian noted that when time served is deducted from his sentence, it may amount to 19 years. ICTY prosecutors called originally for a life sentence in the case.

As described by BBC News, Karadžić’s rise to power as a warlord was an unpredictable one. Now 70, he was a minor figure in the Communist literary establishment before the collapse of Yugoslavia brought bloodshed to Bosnia in 1992. Coming from a family of Serbian ultra-nationalists, he gained a medical degree in Sarajevo, and became team psychologist for the Belgrade Red Star soccer club in 1983.

265When the legacy of the Titoite state began openly fragmenting in 1989, Karadžić first opted to join a short-lived Green Party, but in 1990 he helped establish the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) as the political means to gain Serb dominance in Bosnia. After Bosnia declared its independence in 1992, the SDS launched an uprising against the new republic, with the backing from Belgrade of Serbian dictator Slobodan Milošević. Karadžić then proclaimed the “Republic of Serbs” which seized half of Bosnia.

The Bosnian war ended, with the country still partitioned, after signing of the Dayton Accords in 1995. Tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims, Serbs, and Croats had been killed. A year later, Karadžić disappeared, and maintained a clandestine life between Belgrade and Vienna until 2008, when he was captured in Belgrade, posing as a heavily-bearded “New Age” healer under the name of “Dr. Dragan Dabić.” He was transferred quickly to The Hague.