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Elusive Karadzic Finally Arrested

Bosnian Serb wartime leader in custody awaiting extradition to Hague tribunal.

War crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic, one of the world's most wanted men, is in custody in Serbia pending an extradition order which would see him face justice at the Hague tribunal, after eluding capture for over a decade. 

While Serbian nationalists expressed outrage at the arrest of the former Bosnian Serb leader, the satisfaction voiced by others in the region was tempered by concern that two other major figures are still on the run, one of them Karadzic’s military commander, General Ratko Mladic.

Karadzic, who was president of Republika Srpska, head of the Serbian Democratic Party and supreme commander of the Bosnian Serb army, was indicted by the Hague tribunal in July 1995. He disappeared the following year and has been in hiding ever since.

The 63-year-old is charged with 11 counts of genocide, complicity in genocide, extermination, murder, persecution, inhumane acts and other crimes committed against Bosniak, Croat and other non-Serb civilians in Bosnia and Hercegovina during the 1992-95 conflict. 

Karadzic, along with Mladic, is believed to have orchestrated the killing of 8,000 Bosniak men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995. 

Hague prosecutors accuse Karadzic of acting together with others to secure control of parts of Bosnia and Hercegovina and significantly reduce its non-Serb population. To achieve this objective, Karadzic and others committed crimes to force non-Serbs to leave these areas, to expel those reluctant to leave, and to kill others, they say.

As a press release issued by the tribunal noted, the indictment alleged that Karadzic “committed genocide, persecutions and other crimes when forces under his command killed non-Serbs during and after attacks on towns throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, rounded up thousands of non-Serbs and transferred them to detention facilities set up by the Bosnian Serb authorities”. 

Prosecutors accuse forces under Karadzic’s command of killing, torturing, mistreating, and sexually assaulting non-Serbs in these camps. The former political leader is also charged with responsibility for the shelling and sniping of civilians in Sarajevo, which wounded and killed thousands, including many women and children.

Details of Karadzic’s capture were sparse. A statement from President Boris Tadic’s office said he was arrested "in an action by the Serbian security services”. 

He had been working at an alternative health clinic in Belgrade under a false identity. Pictures widely circulated in the media showed a white-haired man with a long beard.

Commentators say the new pro-western government in Serbia paved the way for Karadzic’s arrest, which many victims of war crimes committed during the Bosnian war feared would never take place.

The president of the European Commission, said the arrest “proves the determination of the new Serbian government to achieve full cooperation'” with the tribunal, and was “very important for Serbia's European aspirations”. 

Hague tribunal prosecutors were jubilant following Karadzic’s capture. 

“This is a very important day for the victims who have waited for this arrest for over a decade,” said chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz. “It is also an important day for international justice, because it clearly demonstrates that nobody is beyond the reach of the law and that sooner or later all fugitives will be brought to justice.” 

After a Serbian judge ordered Karadzic’s extradition to The Hague, his lawyer Svetozar Vujacevic was expected to appeal against the decision by a deadline set for the end of July 25.

Unsurprisingly, Bosnian and Croatian reactions to the news of Karadzic’s detention reflected the unfinished business of conflict in the former Yugoslavia. In Serbia itself, the case highlighted the sharp divide between pro-European politicians who want to break with the past and nationalists who think Serbs have been discriminated against by the international justice process.

“The Serbian state has taken a big step,” said Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic, who heads the government formed in early July by the coalition that won an early parliamentary election in May. “I call upon the remaining Hague fugitives to turn themselves in, as this will be much better for them and the Serbian people.” 

European Union accession was the central campaign issue for the current governing coalition, and the new administration clearly hopes that delivering Karadzic to the tribunal will enhance Serbia’s prospects. 

"With the arrest of Karadzic, we have jumped over a big hurdle on the path towards European integration," said Defence Minister Dragan Sutanovac, a member of the Democratic Party, the leading force in the coalition.

On the other side of the divide, reactions varied between those who deny Karadzic did anything wrong, and critics of the Hague tribunal who argue it has penalised Serb leaders while letting others off lightly. Their suspicion of the EU has grown since most of its members endorsed Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence earlier this year. 

The Serbian Radical Party, SRS, whose leader Vojislav Seselj is currently on trial for war crimes in The Hague, decried the arrest of the former Bosnian Serb leader.

“Tadic has done everything… to ensure that people who are symbols of patriotism disappear," said SRS secretary general Aleksandar Vucic.

The last prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, whose governing coalition collapsed in March, questioned whether the Hague tribunal enjoyed legitimacy. 

In an interview with the Belgrade daily Vecernje Novosti, he criticised the acquittals of Naser Oric, a Bosnian Muslim wartime commander, and Kosovo’s former prime minister Ramush Haradinaj. 

Haradinaj was acquitted in April of the torture, murder, rape and deportation of Serbs during his time as a guerrilla commander in the 1998-99 Kosovo conflict, Earlier this month, the tribunal quashed Oric’s conviction for failing to prevent the murder of Serbs near Srebrenica early in the 1992-95 conflict.

“The DSS [Kostunica’s Democratic Party of Serbia] has warned on two occasions recently that because of the acquittals of Haradinaj and Oric, Serbia needs to open the issue of whether the tribunal has the legitimacy to try war crimes suspects justly,” said the former prime minister. 

In Bosnia and Hercegovina, the international community’s High Representative hailed the arrest as a watershed, saying, “This is the beginning of the end of the most tragic part in the history of Bosnia.” 

Speaking for many victims, Munira Subasic, who heads the Mothers of Srebrenica group, said, “I have waited 13 years to hear that Karadzic and Mladic have been arrested. Until we have justice we cannot have reconciliation.”

Among politicians in Bosnia, the conflicting reactions from the two “entities” - the Federation and Republika Srpska – reflected the lingering sense of mistrust between them. 

“Justice is not complete until we erase the genocide project that is still alive today. Radovan Karadzic has been arrested, Slobodan Milosevic is dead, but their project Republika Srpska still exists,” said Haris Silajdzic, the Bosniak member of the state’s rotating presidency. 

By contrast, Milorad Dodik, prime minister of the Serb entity, appeared to downplay the implications of Karadzic’s arrest for the future of Republika Srpska, stressing that its former leader only “has to answer charges of individual responsibility”.

Like others across the region who welcomed the Karadzic arrest, politicians in Zagreb added the proviso that it must be swiftly followed by that of Mladic and Hadzic – the latter a figure of particular interest to Croatia.

Hadzic was president of a self-declared Serb state inside Croatia, and is accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and responsibility for the 1991 massacre of 250 civilians taken from a hospital in Vukovar.

“We are pleased that things are moving in the right way, but we are still waiting for the arrest of Mladic and Hadzic, as nothing encourages a crime more than when it remains unpunished”, said Croatia’s deputy prime minister Jadranka Kosor.

Croatia hopes to join the EU in 2009, and a number of politicians there expressed concern that Serbia’s application to join would now be fast-tracked. 

Zoran Milanovic, chaiman of the Social Democratic Party, Croatia’s largest opposition party, warned that it was too early for Serbia to claim it was fully cooperating with the Hague, a condition of progress towards membership. 

“As long as… Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic are still free, Serbia will not have accomplished complete cooperation with the Hague tribunal,” he said.

Others said the application process for Serbia was unlikely to be accelerated, for purely practical reasons.

Political analyst Davor Genero said Serbia was unlikely to join together with Croatia in the 2009 wave. “That is not realistic, because the procedure is much too complicated and Serbia is too far behind when it comes to fulfilling EU standards,” he said.

Sandro Knezovic of the Croatian Institute for International Relations, added, “Karadjic’s arrest is important for the entire region… but you can’t expect it is going to catapult Serbia into the EU.” 

Caroline Tosh is an IWPR editor in London. Aleksandar Roknic, Denis Dzidzic and Goran Jungvirth are IWPR-trained journalists in Belgrade, Sarajevo and Zagreb, respectively.

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