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Comment: Karadzic's Protective Ring

Time to crack down on war crime suspect’s support network.
By Erik Larson

Radovan Karadzic fans have never been shy about voicing their support for the former Bosnian Serb president.

Karadzic T-shirts and posters are sold openly throughout Republika Srpska.

Shortly after SFOR conducted a three-day raid on Pale attempting to arrest Karadzic earlier this month, his supporters plastered the town with posters bearing his image that stated, “Always By Your Side.”

Recently, anti-SFOR graffiti has appeared along SFOR’s main supply routes proclaiming, “Karadzic is under your noses, you stupid SFOR fucks.”

This unabashed support of Karadzic is hardly surprising given the impunity with which war crimes suspects and their supporters have been able to operate in Bosnia since the war ended eight years ago.

SFOR troops have never made the apprehension of war crimes suspects a priority. And neither SFOR, the Office of the High Representative, the United Nations, nor the Bosnian government have taken serious action against those who provide support for war crimes suspects and help them evade arrest.

It is time for this to change.

Last March, the Office of the High Representative imposed a new Bosnian criminal code and a new national Bosnian State Court and State Prosecutor's Office were established.

This new criminal code should be aggressively enforced to start rolling up the support network for war crimes suspects and rid Bosnia once and for all of the powerful nationalist mafias that Karadzic and others still control.

Article 231 of the new criminal code, Failure to Inform of a Person Indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal, states that anyone who knows the whereabouts of a person indicted by the tribunal and fails to report it can be punished with three years in prison.

Article 233, Accessory to a Person Indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal, mandates that anyone who "renders assistance to, or hides a person indicted by the international criminal tribunal or aids him to elude discovery" can also be imprisoned for up to three years.

Government officials who fail to assist in the location and arrest of war crimes suspects are subject to even stiffer punishment. Article 203 of the new code authorises a 10-year prison sentence for any government official who refuses to act upon the order of the tribunal to arrest, detain or extradite Hague indictees.

Article 219 makes it a crime punishable by up to 10 years prison for public officials who intercede on behalf of war crimes suspects.

Finally, Article 220 imposes a prison sentence of up to ten years imprisonment for any public official who fails to execute his official duty, which includes failure to go after war crimes suspects.

The new code also authorises the use of plea bargains – tools prosecutors can use to force cooperation. Under this new system, those guilty of supporting war crimes suspects can be given immunity in exchange for telling authorities what they know. As an added incentive, they will also be eligible to collect on the 5 million US dollar reward the US government is offering for information leading to the arrest or conviction of Karadzic and his military commander, General Ratko Mladic.

Taken together, these new laws provide strong tools to use to pry loose the government support network for war crimes suspects across Bosnia.

The Bosnian media recently reported that in the wake of the failed raid to capture Karadzic, SFOR troops detained Dusan Bato Tesic, a former member of a Bosnian Serb special police who is known to be a key Karadzic supporter. After they interrogate him, SFOR should turn Tesic over to the prosecutor’s office for prosecution under Articles 231 and 233 of the new criminal code.

In addition to initiating proceedings against Tesic, the new prosecutors’ office should begin criminal investigations of others believed to be providing support to war crimes suspects. For example, it has been widely reported that Karadzic has been more or less openly moving back and forth near Celebici, Rudo, Visegrad, and Foca. Investigations should be opened up against government officials in these municipalities for failing to inform on him as required under Article 231.

The international community should do everything it can to aid the prosecutor’s office.

The Office of the High Representative, the United States, the European Union, and others have developed no-visa lists of war criminal supporters. The case files of everyone on those lists should be turned over to Bosnian authorities for examination and initiation of criminal investigations.

Time is not on the side of the international community. The SFOR mission is slated to expire at the end of the year. If war crimes suspects are not apprehended before then, they may never be.

Erik Larson is a partner at the San Francisco law firm of Gasner, Spahr & Larson, LLP, and is currently on a humanitarian sabbatical in Sarajevo serving as the Criminal Law Liaison to Bosnia-Herzegovina for ABA-CEELI, the American Bar Association’s Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative.

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