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More Than a “Local Genocide”

Fine print of Karadzic indictment will determine scope of genocide charges and extent to which Belgrade’s role is highlighted.
By Edina Becirevic
The story of Radovan Karadzic’s unusual cover – his white beard and work as an alternative therapist – is top news around the world. But many people seem more concerned with the juicy details of his life in hiding than with questions about the future.

Instead, I want to raise the question of what effect his arrest and trial will have on Bosnia and Hercegovina and the rest of former Yugoslavia.

Only two weeks ago, on the anniversary of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of Republika Srpska, said, “It is clear that what happened in Srebrenica was a local genocide committed by a small number of soldiers and army officers.”

It was a very telling remark.

Dodik based his comments on rulings by the International Court of Justice and the Hague tribunal, both of which define the events of July 1995 in Srebrenica as genocide. They describe other crimes committed by Serb forces as ethnic cleansing, similar in scope but lacking “genocidal intent”, although a German court did convict Bosnian Serb paramilitary leader Nikola Jorgic of genocide committed in the city of Doboj in 1992, and the sentence was upheld by the European Court of Human Rights.

Karadzic is charged with genocide, and complicity in genocide, against Bosniaks and Croats in Bosnia and Hercegovina in the periods from July 1991 to December 1992, and from March to November 1995.

If the indictment remains unchanged and the charges are proved in court, it will be very hard for Dodik to label Srebrenica as a “local genocide”.

If we compare Karadzic’s indictment with that against Ratko Mladic, his army chief who is still on the run, we notice one important difference. Mladic’s indictment includes the legal concept of a “joint criminal enterprise”, linking him with the late Slobodan Milosevic and high-level political and military structures in Serbia. “Joint criminal enterprise” is mentioned more than 20 times in Mladic’s indictment, but is entirely absent from Karadzic’s.

This suggests that the Karadzic trial will not see attempts to implicate Belgrade in the crimes with which he is charged.

Anyone looking for a hidden agenda might conclude that this is why Belgrade arrested Karadzic, when the world was expecting to see Mladic in custody first.

The Hague tribunal tries to establish individual, not group, responsibility, but when it comes to genocide, verdicts always have far-reaching political consequences.

According to prosecution spokesperson Olga Kavran, Karadzic’s indictment is going to be revised. This raises a number of questions.

If the tribunal applies genocide charges only to Srebrenica, it will encourage Bosnian Serb nationalists to continue talking about “local genocide”.

The inflammatory remarks Karadzic made during the initial phase of the conflict are so widely known in Bosnia that it would now be extremely difficult for the tribunal to explain to Bosniaks the reasons from dropping genocide charges relating to 1991-92.

If the final indictment retains the genocide charge for the period 1991-92, and if genocidal intent is proven, it would weaken the position of nationalists in Republika Srpska who want a referendum on secession from the Bosnian state.

If the final version fails to refer to a “joint criminal enterprise”, it removes the political burden of an association with genocide from Serbia and places it squarely on the Bosnian Serb leaders of the time. But there is no reason to expect the revised indictment to include the “joint criminal enterprise” tag.

The tribunal wants Belgrade to deliver both Mladic and former Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic, so at this point it would be politically insensitive to cite Milosevic and the Yugoslav army in the Karadzic indictment.

Proving that Karadzic as a political leader was responsible for genocide will be a challenge for the prosecution, given that Milosevic died before the end of his trial.

So far, the tribunal has only proven genocide in the case of Bosnian Serb army officer Radislav Krstic – and that was for command responsibility within the military. It was certainly a historic verdict, but proving political responsibility is more of a challenge.

Bosnian media have been speculating that the man who prosecuted Krstic, Mark Harmon, will take on Karadzic. But we should not forget that Harmon’s record is not perfect – he failed to prove genocidal intent at the trial of Momcilo Krajisnik, the former head of the Bosnian Serb parliament. Nor did the prosecution appeal against the decision, which suggests Harmon did not believe he had provide enough evidence to prove genocide took place in 1991-92.

Krajisnik presided over a parliament whose members used genocidal rhetoric in their normal day-to-day speech, so it is hard to believe there was insufficient evidence. The problem is that most Hague investigators and prosecutors do not see genocide as a social and political process, but rather than a one-off military action.

Will Karadzic live long enough to see the inside of the Hague courtroom? Given his bizarre cover as an alternative therapy specialist and his long years in hiding, it may not be over-dramatic to fear he might try to take his own life.

When Milosevic died and it was reported that that he was taking the wrong medicine, I remembered my own experience of security measures at the Scheveningen detention facility where Hague defendants are held. I was going in to speak to one of the indicted individuals when a guard at the final security checkpoint looked in my bag and found three different types of painkillers. I had severe back pain at the time.

For a moment, I thought he would make me leave my bag behind, which would have been quite understandable. Instead, he just laughed, shook his head and gave me a cheeky smile, saying, “Oh, you look healthy.” I took my bag inside complete with the harmless painkillers, but they might easily have been poison.

Edina Becirevic is senior lecturer at the University of Sarajevo.

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