The ICTY Convicts the “Butcher of Bosnia”

On March 24, 2016, after a seven year trial, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) rendered its verdict against the “Butcher of Bosnia,” Radovan Karadzic. The former president of the Bosnian Serbs from 1992 to 1996, was convicted on ten out of eleven counts from an original indictment which dated back to 1995, and was confirmed in 2000. The eleven counts included two genocide charges; one for alleged planned attacks on seven municipalities where Bosnian Muslims resided and the mass execution of over 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys from July 11-13, 1995 in Srebrenica. Karadzic’s sole acquittal stemmed from the former.

Since the end of the Bosnian War in late-1995, after the signing of the Dayton Agreement, Karadzic dexterously eluded law enforcement agencies disguising himself as a new age healer in Serbia. On July 21, 2008, Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade and was subsequently transported to The Hague, where he remained in custody throughout the duration of the trial. The lengthy duration of the trial is attributed to the challenges the prosecutors faced in proving beyond reasonable doubt that Karadzic intentionally, knowingly and strategically planned the mass murder of Bosnian Muslims. Described as the highest crime by the International Criminal Court, the court was careful in the way that genocide was adjudicated because it did not wish to flag an act as genocide in a way that every future offense against international justice would automatically be labeled as such. Thus, with the genocide conviction, the Court intended to make sure that for genocide to be adjudicated, it would have to be done in an ironclad fashion, with no room for the ruling to be questioned.

The verdict agains Karadzic was met with mixed responses. Leaders of the Republic of Srpska, where Karadzic is viewed as a national hero, and where as recently as a few months back a student dormitory was named after him, passionately denounced the verdict. Milorad Dodik, the President of the Republic of Srpska rejected the legitimacy of the ICTY and stated that it was “not a legal institution, but exclusively a political institution.” He added that the trial had not aided in the reconciliation between now Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Srpska, but rather “encouraged further divisions and strongly destabilized [the] region.”

On the other side of the spectrum, many of the family members of those who were massacred in Srebrenica celebrated the guilty verdict. Hasan Nuhanovic, who served as a translator for the UN Dutch peacekeepers in Srebrenica and whose brother was one of the the executed, stated that “the genocide ruling is important for the prevention of any potential future genocide in the region, or in the world, it is the best way to prevent genocide to do international justice and have these type of rulings.” Others critics have centered upon what appears to many as a mild sentence of 40 years for Karadzic (minus time served, which would put the final sentence at 33 years), as well as on the acquittal of the second count of genocide, according to many, should have been part of the guilty verdict, as Srebrenica is viewed as the culmination of prior attempts at ethnic cleansing.

In terms of the response by the international community to the verdict and the criticism regarding the long time that it took for a judgment, the case’s chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, stated that “international justice function[s] in realpolitik world, [it] is relatively young, [and] far from being perfect, but there are a number of encouraging signs and this decision is one of them.” Sending a strong and clear message regarding violations of human rights, he added, “sometimes it takes long, perhaps if he [person being accused] is still in power, he may not be prosecuted [right away] but at the end of the day, everyone has to confront the crimes they have committed.”

While Karadzic represented himself throughout the trial, he relied on a group of attorneys with which he consulted. During the trial, Karadzic consistently denied his involvement in the acts for which he was being tried and went as far as to state: “Everyone who knows me knows that I am not an autocrat, that I am not aggressive, that I am not intolerant, on the contrary, I’m a mild man, a tolerant man, with great capacity to understand others, but it is true that I was strict towards myself and others in implementing democratic decisions.” Consequently, it may not come as a surprise to learn that shortly after the verdict was announced, Karadzic and his team of attorneys said they would appeal the judgment. The ICTY will close once the trials for Goran Hadžić, Ratko Mladic and Vojislav Šešelj come to an end.

Additional research by: Mónica E. Rivera Bayón

Foto: ICTY Photos

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