The ‘Butcher of Bosnia’ jailed for 40 years

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia found former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic guilty on Thursday of some of the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II. (the precise charges are listed at the end of the article).

Karadzic and other Serb leaders effectively conducted a regimented and systematic ethnic cleansing of Bosniak (Muslim) and Croat people in Serbian territory, reminiscent of the Nazi ethnic cleansing of Jews in Europe. Amongst the Human rights atrocities were rape, castration, murders, forced relocations, imprisonment concentration camps and curfews.

Mark Danner, who has written extensively on the Bosnia War, describes the Bosnian Serb plan of attack – which received strong support from Serbia – as follows:

  1. Concentration – urge Serb residents of the city to leave, while surrounding the town and bombarding it with artillery fire.
  2. Decapitation – execute the leaders and intelligentsia of the town.
  3. Separation – separate the women, children, and old men from the men of “fighting age.”
  4. Evacuation – move women, children, and old men to concentration camps or national borders.
  5. Liquidation – execute the men of “fighting age.”[1]

Despite the fact that he was found guilty of Genocide in Srebrenica, the main disappointment for victims and those who follow the Balkans carefully is the fact that he was found to be free from guilt over genocide in 7 municipalities that suffered horribly during the war (Bratunac, Foca, Kljuc, Prijedor, Sanski Most, Vlasenica and Zvornik). These were areas where thousands of Bosniaks and Croats (though mainly Bosniaks) were “ethnically cleansed” through mass killings, systematic rape and other forms of terror. Hundreds of thousands were driven out of their homes and the traces of their culture and their religion were later deleted. In one village alone, named Djulichi (Đulići), near Zvornik, seven hundred adult males were brutally murdered. Today, in that village it is almost impossible to find anyone older than 40.

Ratko Mladic declares ‘revenge on Muslims’ in the town of Srebrenica. Genocide took place soon after.

Reaction in Bosnia

Survivors of Bosnian Serb atrocities, relatives of victims and legal experts reacted with dismay to the news that Radovan Karadžić was not given a life sentence.

“What could he possibly have been given other than a life sentence? I don’t know if his family is still alive, but I’ve lost everybody, I am alone,” said Saliha Osmanovic.

The Serbian reaction was also that of dismay and condemned the verdict, mockingly repeating what is commonly known as the leitmotif of Serbian politicians, and a quote by Karadzic’s lawyer in 2008: EVERYONE IS INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN A SERB.

Serbia denies any involvement in war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Belgrade government also denies that the massacres of more than 7,000 Bosniaks from Srebrenica constituted genocide, despite rulings issued by international and local courts as well as tonnes of academic work in the area.

If official statements by the government and politicians were anything to go by, the opinions of ordinary people are hardly surprising:

“They should charge other people, not Radovan Karadzic. He defended the Serbian people, sacrificed himself for the Serbian people, but the authorities in Serbia sent him to Hague.”

Go to Pale, the Serb’s administrative capital in Bosnia during the war, and you will find many more hardliners and more frightening opinions. For many here, Karadzic is a hero. Just three days before the court verdict, Bosnian Serb officials named a student dorm the “Dr. Radovan Karadzic” room.

Tonight, while I am writing this article in Banja Luka, the administrative capital of Republika Srpska, during a football friendly between local club Borac and Belgrade Partizan, the entire stadium chanted the name of Radovan Karadzic. It seems that people are more interested in chanting names of war criminals or Nazis than in supporting their teams. This raises profound questions over the possibility of co-existence between Bosniaks and Serbs, with tensions now heightened and talks of possible separation in the fragile federation which has held Bosnia together since the end of the war very much still alive.

40 years of jail – Paradoxical verdict

The biggest enigma of the entire judicial process is how it is possible that the architect of the genocide received only 40 years while perpetrators of those criminal acts received life sentences.

To name but four prominent examples: Stanislav Galic was sentenced to life imprisonment for spreading terror among the civilian population, and for the shelling and sniping of Sarajevo under the siege.

Lieutenant Colonel and Chief of Security of the Drina Corps of the Republic of Serbian Vujadin Popovic was given life imprisonment for genocide, crimes against humanity, and violations of the laws or customs of war.

Ljubisa Beara, Colonel and Chief of Security of the Main Staff of the VRS, also sentenced for life.

Zdravko Tolimir, Assistant Commander for Intelligence and Security of the Main Staff of the Serbian, was sentenced for life.

Nevertheless, this verdict remains hugely significant. It acknowledges the systematic nature of the killings, and recognises the atrocities that were long denied by the Serbian authorities. It provides global and historical recognition that a genocide did take place. Although this does not bring back the dead, recognition does go some way in providing a stepping stone to a new generation, one far removed from the hatred, racism and xenophobia.


Background: what was Karadzic charged with?

Karadzic was found guilty on 10 of the 11 counts, including genocide for the Srebrenica massacre and criminal responsibility for the shelling of Sarajevo, during a nearly four-year siege on the city. He is the highest-ranking official the court has convicted since its creation in 1993. Below are the 11 counts Karadzic was accused of:


  • Count 1 – genocide (in municipalities of Bratunac, Foca, Kljuc, Prijedor, Sanski Most, Vlasenica and Zvornik) – not guilty (thousands of Bosniaks and Croats brutally murdered, concentration camps, mass graves)
  • Count 2 – genocide (in Srebrenica) – guilty (8372 civilian victims in Srebrenica genocide)

Crimes against humanity

  • Count 3 – persecutions – guilty (2.2 million displaced)
  • Count 4 – extermination – guilty (Sniping and shelling during the 44-month siege of Sarajevo and the deaths in Srebrenica)
  • Count 5 – murder – guilty (overall number of victims 68,101 of Muslims (Bosniaks), 22,779 Serbs, 8,858 Croats and 4,995 of others)
  • Count 7 – deportation – guilty (Karadzic knew that between March 1992 and November 1995 Serb forces and Bosnian Serbs “forcibly displaced Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats”)
  • Count 8 – inhumane acts (forcible transfer) – guilty (arbitrary arrest and detention, harassment, torture, rape and other acts of sexual violence, killing, and destruction of houses and cultural monuments)

Violations of the laws or customs of war

  • Count 6 – murder – guilty (“organised and opportunistic killings” in direct violation of the 1949 Geneva Convention governing the rules of war)
  • Count 9 – terror (in Sarajevo) – guilty (longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare – 1425 days and about 13,952 victims)
  • Count 10 – unlawful attacks on civilians (in Sarajevo) – guilty (During the siege, 11,541 residents were killed, including over 1,500 children; 56,000 residents were wounded, including nearly 15,000 children)
  • Count 11 – taking hostage of UN observers and peacekeepers – guilty (kidnapping and use as human shields of over 200 UN military observers and peacekeepers)



[1] Adam Jones. Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction