I used to follow the trial of indicted war criminal Radovan Karadžić quite closely, so I noticed today that he was sentenced to forty years in prison.
At the end of it all, 21 years since he was first charged, after 11 years on the run, a five-year trial and the 18 months the judges took to deliberate over a verdict, Radovan Karadžić’s moment of judgment came.
The Bosnian Serb leader was convicted of genocide for the 1995 slaughter at Srebrenica, and nine other counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, terror and extermination. It was a conviction that ranks as the most serious handed down in Europe since Nuremberg.
The judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia were definitive about Karadžić’s key involvement in the Srebrenica massacre, in which more than 7,000 men and boys were rounded up, executed and pushed into mass graves. The presiding ICTY judge delivering the ruling, O-Gon Kwon, said: “Karadžić was in agreement with the plan of the killings”, and had given a coded message to an underling for the doomed Muslim captives, which he referred to as “the goods”, to be moved to a warehouse, from where they were taken out and executed.
During the 100-minute verdict and sentencing, Karadžić sat impassively, dressed in a dark blue suit, not in the dock but on the defence bench, as he opted throughout the five-year trial to act as his own lead counsel. He smiled and nodded to one or two familiar faces from the Serbian press in the gallery, but hardly glanced at the public gallery which was packed with survivors and victims’ family members, mostly women grieving lost sons and husbands. They obeyed the tribunal instructions to stay quiet throughout the proceedings, but there were quiet grunts of disappointment when Karadžić was acquitted of a second charge of genocide for the 1992 killings in Serbian municipalities around Bosnia.
The only time he appeared nervous was when he stood to receive sentence, his arms stiff by his side, but as soon as the judges had gone, he called a huddle of his legal advisers to immediately begin planning his appeal.
“He was surprised at the reasoning that the trial chamber used to convict him, so that was basically the first thing he said: ‘I can’t believe they convicted me like this,’” Peter Robinson, his chief legal adviser, said afterwards.
Karadžić will now have 30 days to file an appeal and it will take three years to hear. The legal marathon will continue and Karadžić will stay in The Hague for the time being….
I’ve been following the case since Karadžić was captured in Belgrade in 2008—that event was actually what sparked my interest in the Balkans. I haven’t really written about this topic much on this blog for various reasons, mainly because my views are somewhat controversial. However, I will say this: I’ve never really approved of this criminal tribunal that hears cases related to the conflict that took place in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s because it’s very biased against the Serbs. Croatian and Bosnian defendants have been able to get away with murder (see: Ante Gotovina and Naser Orić, respectively) and the Serbs have to answer for every little thing they did, even if it was a legitimate action taken in a war.
It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out. I doubt Dr. Karadžić’s appeal will go anywhere, but I’ll definitely be watching for news about it.
I listened to a Russian radio station during dinner and it was fascinating to see how differently they covered this event. They even aired a statement by Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky (who I once wrote about here) in support of Dr. Karadžić.