In the morning of Tuesday, July 22, I was en route to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, when a news ticker on a TV screen at a Frankfurt airport lounge struck me. First, I did not believe it. But, then, the news bulletin confirmed that former Bosnian war criminal Radovan Karadzic had been arrested a day before in a suburb of Belgrade after being on the run for nearly 12 years. It was, indeed, happy news.
I had followed the heinous process of ethnic-cleansing of the Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina from 1992-1995 and the Muslims of Kosovo in 1999-2000 at the hands of Serbian leaders quite closely, and written extensively about the callous behaviour of European and United Nations leaders during the Srebrenica tragedy. Therefore, I was personally relieved to learn that, at long last, one of the most notorious figures who had perpetrated unprecedented atrocities against a European people since the Second World War was finally in custody, and would soon find justice in International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia (ICCY) at The Hague.
On July 30, Karadzic was finally brought to the place that he deserved all these years: a cell of the UN war crimes tribunal detention centre in The Hague. The next day, he appeared before the ICCY judge, who read out the charges of war crimes against him, including genocide charges relating to the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in July 1995, and to the 43-month long siege of Sarajevo which left over 14,000 Bosnian Muslims dead. He and the Serbian General, Ratko Mladic, who is still at large, are prime accused in the tragedy of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which claimed a total of 100, 000 lives and made two-and-a-half million people refugees.
Doctor in Disguise
It is equally tragic to learn that all of these years, from the end of the Bosnian war in 1995 to the end of July 2008, Karadzic had been living a normal life. For a few years after the end of Bosnian war, he moved around freely, and had gone into hiding only in 1999, when international pressure on Belgrade for his extradition to the War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague mounted.
However, even in hiding, he lived a normal life, disguised as an alternative healer with a pseudo name Dr Dragan Dabic in a Belgrade apartment. For some time, Karadzic also lived in Vienna, and is also reported to have visited Venice. He spoke openly at conferences on behalf of his firm, never missing any photo opportunity.
When he was directing his murderous spree in Bosnia-Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995, we were all too familiar with the scary image of Karadzic, with Mladic mostly on his side. The self-proclaimed President of “Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina,” with a part of nicely-combed long white hair falling on his forehead, had blood in his eyes, as he looked down at the ruined city of Sarajevo from his mountainous stronghold in Pale, to make sure whether the Serbian bombardment of Bosnian Muslim homes and apartments was proceeding smoothly.
On the eve of war in 1992, Karadzic had warned against plans to declare Bosnia a sovereign state, saying it would perhaps “make the Muslim people disappear, because the Muslims cannot defend themselves if there is war.” This warning was manifested in the siege of Sarajevo and the massacre of Srebrenica, and so many other instances of Serbian ethnic-cleansing of Bosnian Muslims and Croats.
Karadzic would tour the towns and villages of Bosnian Muslims that lay in ruins, to make sure whether any men or boys were left there to be “ethnically-cleansed,” a term that Karadzic himself coined to describe the eventual fate of Bosnian Muslims at the hands of Serbians, for whom, and whom alone, the land of Bosnian-Herzegovina belonged.
Imagine a killer like him suddenly vanishing from the scene, and spending years freely in the capital of the Republic of Serbia, growing the same white hair a little longer, and becoming a look-alike of a Hindu Guru! A Master at Disguises, Karadzic would surely not leave behind Milosevic in attempting to turn his trial at The Hague a façade. In fact, from his place of confinement in Belgrade, he has already termed the charges of genocide as “preposterous.”
The Hunting Party
Karadzic and Mladic were indicted by The Hague tribunal in 1996, and his continued liberty had been a crushing embarrassment to the international community. Interestingly, last year, the hunt for Karadzic was a subject of a Hollywood movie, The Hunting Party, in which Richard Gere performs the role of a famous American war journalist, who loses his pregnant Bosnian Muslim wife during the massacre of Srebrenica, and stays back in Bosnia to hunt down Karadzic, the Fox. Amid many surprising, but somewhat dangerous, twists and turns, and with help of an American colleague, the hunting party eventually gets hold of the Serbian war leader.
The movie concludes with the hunted Fox being driven to Sarajevo in the back of a car and delivered in a busy square of the city, with the final scene showing people in a mix of excitement and rage, slowly hovering over their prey. Such idealistic outcomes can only happen in movies, the survivors of a genocide delivering justice in their own way, as all those old Bosnian Muslim women who had losed their loved ones must have wished while watching Karadzic on TV screens, appearing before the tribunal to face charges of genocide .
Now that Karadzic is finally hunted in real and brought before the war crimes tribunal, justice premised on international law should not take that long to prevail. It is true that proving the charge of genocide will be a difficult and cumbersome process, as it may involve hundreds of relatives of Bosnian Muslim victims to record their accounts. For mere circumstantial evidence will not be enough to indict him. Some hardcore evidence of his personal supervision of the genocide of Bosnian Muslims as the political leader of the Bosnian Serbs will be required to secure life imprisonment, the maximum punishment at The Hague’s court.
For the purpose, the cooperation of Serbian authorities with the court at The Hague will be extremely crucial. By arresting Karadzic, the government in Belgrade has already signaled that it sees the country’s future in the European Union. Protests from ultra-nationalists in the aftermath of Karadzic’s arrest aside, the current Serbian leadership appears ready to keep the tragic past of the Balkans behind, and share a prosperous future in the European Union along with other former Yugoslav republics such as Slovenia.
‘Serbia till Tokyo’
In fact, in Slovenia itself, where I spoke at the World International Studies Committee’s Conference the previous week, the news of Karadzic’s arrest was hailed by people as well as leaders. I had a chance to converse with the country’s President, Danilo Turk, who served for years at the UN as an advisor on International Law. He said in the case of Slovenia, which was also a republic of former Yugoslavia, gaining independence from Belgrade was relatively easier. Back in 1991, when Slovenia declared independence, the Serbs did attack, but the war lasted only for 10 days. The main problem with the Serbs, he told me, was their expansionist, racist mentality. A young student, Gregor, also confirmed such Serbian mentality, by referring to a popular Serbian saying, “Serbia till Tokyo.”
This was the mindset of the Serbian ultra-nationalist leadership, such as Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who laid the ground for Serbian ethnic-cleansing of the Muslims of Bosnia and Kosovo, through a single speech he made in Kosovo back in 1987, telling the minority Serbs of Kosovo that they will not be left alone henceforth. His reference point was the Serbian defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in the Battle of Kosovo six centuries ago.
What happened in its aftermath was horrific. However, at the end of the day, on the ashes of Sarajevo, where the signs of Serbian genocidal spree and militant encirclement are still writ large, and the mass graves of Srebrenica, what stands today is not the “Serbia till Tokyo”, but nations of people who, despite undergoing unimaginable brutality, have taken a new start with a promising future. Their wounds of the traumatic past, however, need to be healed, and that can only happen if all the butchers of the Balkans are brought to justice, including Mladic, as well as Goran Hadzic, who is accused of committing war crimes against the people of Croatia.
As for the expected trial of Karadzic, it should not become a farce, and an opportunity for the war criminal to project his self-deluded megalomaniac vision, just as it happened, unfortunately, in the case of Milosevic, who finally died of heart attack in March 2006 in his prison Cell at The Hague. His trial had entered the fifth year, and it ended without a verdict.
The former chief prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, who served at the tribunal’s chief prosecutor from 1999 to 2007, indeed, deserves credit for bringing a number of war criminals at the Tribunal to justice. Milosevic’s death well before the conclusion of the trial, which saw the Serbian war monger repeatedly making fun of the prosecution before TV cameras, was quite depressing to her, and so was the fact that two of the most notorious Bosnian Serb leaders, Karadzic and Mladic, remained at large throughout her tenure. At one time, she was reported to have called them “the bones in my throat.”
One could understand her frustration. For Karadzic and Mladic were the prime accused in the tribunal’s case of war crimes in Bonsnia-Herzegovina. Carla del Ponte’s successor, Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz has said that he will conduct the trial efficiently, learning from the Milosevic case. However, simultaneously, he has warned us about the complex nature of the case, which may take months for hearings to prove. Milosevic, Karadzic and Mladic represent a trinity of Serbian ultra-nationalist leaders, committing genocide and masterminding the bloodiest carnage to blight Europe since the Third Reich.
Yet, for years, they were appeased by the European and UN leaders. The governments of Britain and France especially—as well as the UN leadership—saw in Milosevic and Karadzic not a war criminal, but a fellow politician with whom to do business.
As Ed Vulliamy argues in “The Edge of Madness” (The Guardian, July 23) Karadzic was courted by “Lord Peter Carrington, Malcolm Rifkind, Lord David Owen, Cyrus Vance, Douglas Hurd and Dame Pauline Neville-Jones as an equal deserving full diplomatic protocol. Western diplomats accepted Karadzic’s endless, empty guarantees and his posturing and fleeting ‘ceasefires’. They agreed to turn back aid to the desperate ‘safe areas’ declared but betrayed by the UN. They connived in maps and ‘peace plans’ that gave Karadzic everything he had won by violence and tolerated the siege of Sarajevo, which he is accused of personally overseeing. In the years after the war, from 1995, while 60,000 foreign troops patrolled Bosnia, the fugitive Karadzic lived openly in Pale and moved across the country, waved through NATO roadblocks. Karadzic and Mladic were granted over three years’ free rein since the start of Bosnia war in May 1992, before bringing the war, according to the indictments against each, to its nadir: the massacre at Srebrenica, which has been established as genocide, and which Karadzic and Mladic are accused of ordering.
“The ‘safe area’ was easily overrun in July 1995, as Dutch troops mandated to protect it stood by and the UN commander, General Bernard Janvier, refused to intervene from Sarajevo, having dined with Mladic a few days previously. Women and children were separated from men and boys while UN troops looked on, and the latter taken away to sites such as a warehouse, a dam and a schoolhouse for summary execution. Thousands more who fled through the forests on what has become known as the “road of death” were likewise rounded up and shot. Over five days, 8,000 were murdered…But Karadzic is charged with ordering so much more during those three years between Omarska and Srebrenica - the latter being iconic of so much atrocity in so many places that Srebrenica's notoriety now tends to distract from, rather than draw attention to. Atrocity in places whose names are barely known and soon forgotten in the world outside. Who talks now about Bosnian Serb massacres at Zvornik, Vlasenica, Brcko or Bijeljina?”
11 years ago, I had authored an investigative piece in The Nation, (April 6, 1997), establishing the devious role played by French General Janvier, the Supreme Commander of the UN Protection Forces (UNPROFOR) in the former Yugoslavia, during the Srebrenica massacre. In May 1995, he had pleaded before an in camera session of the UN Security Council in New York that the UN should give up Srebrenica and two other Un safety zones in eastern Bosnia, Zepa and Goradze. A month later, in June 1995, the French intelligence service learned of Serb preparations for an attack on Srebrenica. The information was given to General Janvier at UNPROFOR headquarters in Zagreb. During the Serb attack on Srebrenica between 5 and 11 July, Janvier denied five requests from the local Dutch UNPROFOR commander to call in NATO aircraft to stop the Serbian assault. But the French General did not heed the commander’s calls, on direct orders of French President Jacques Chirac.
The United Nations was well aware of the deadly turn of events in Srebrenica. On June 19, the UN Special Envoy to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mr Akashi, had sent a cable to the then UN Under-Secretary General for Peace-keeping, no other than Kofi Annan, informing him about the details of his meeting with Milosevic, during which the Serbian leader informed Mr Akashi that President Chirac had assured him about NATO’s intention not to intervene militarily in the Bosnian conflict. But Annan remained silent. A few years later when Annan took over as UN Secretary General, he was asked about his silence when one of the world’s largest massacres in recent history was taking place in Srebrenica. He came up with a diplomatic answer, saying “the whole international community, not the UN, failed in Srebrenica.”
So, while assessing the arrest of Karadzic and the potential outcome of his trial at the International Criminal Court at The Hague in this long backdrop, one can only say that the wounds of Bosnian Muslim survivors of genocide at the hands of Serbian war criminals cannot be healed by merely indicting Karadzic, or possibly Mladic in near future, and putting them in prison for the rest of their lives.
The proceedings of Karadzic’s trial, as well as other Serbian leaders already being tried or yet to face trial, should bring to forth the treacherous and murderous role played by all the European and UN’s leading players at the time, especially in the case of Srebrenica massacre. One hopes that during the trial, Karadzic will expose these people, who kept guaranteeing him a free hand to kill as many Muslim men and boys, rape as many Muslim women, and push the rest of the Muslim population, in millions, the children, the elderly, either inside concentration camps and out of the frontiers of Bosnia-Herzegovina—a pattern that would be replicated by Milosevic in Kosovo during 1999-2000.
NATO did act in the latter case, but only because the Americans wanted it. And the leftover of Bosnian Muslim population that lived and was able to return to Bosnia-Herzegovina in the past 13 years has also been due to the instrumental role played by the United States under the Clinton administration, which helped negotiate the Dayton Peace Accords. In the aftermath of these accords, the United States deployed the largest contingent of peacekeepers, numbering 20,000, which, along with other UN peacekeepers, including from Pakistan, have helped maintain peace and stability in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Richard Holbrooke, the US Special Envoy to Bosnia-Herzegovina, had played a key role in bringing the warring sides to the negotiating table to conclude the Dayton Accords. During his debut appearance before the court on July 31, Karadzic, back to his original appearance but looking thin and frail, made a sensational lie that he had concluded a deal with Mr Holbrooke in 1996, which guaranteed him immunity in exchange for his disappearance from public life. This lie has been in circulation in the Serbian media for quite some time. And one can understand the extent of Karadzic’s frustration to personally say it now. For like all butchers preceding him to face justice at The Hague, he will spend quite some time in such flimsy talk. Remember Milosevic and Saddam Hussain! How much time did they waste of the prosecution in posing as born-again messiahs?
In retrospect, therefore, it is important that Karadzic’s trial at The Hague must not become a farce. Justice delayed is justice denied. Moreover, in his case, what matters is not securing a life imprisonment on charges of genocide. In fact, the trial must expose all those European and UN leaders who courted Karadzic, and his still-at-large military commander Mladic, during their three-year long killing spree in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Access column at weeklypulse.org