« Previous | Main | Next »

Karadzic: the man and the trial

Post categories:

Robin Lustig | 00:12 UK time, Friday, 25 July 2008

I don't get to meet many alleged mass murderers in my line of business - which is probably just as well, because I don't much enjoy it.

My two encounters with Radovan Karadzic - in the days before he was indicted for genocide and war crimes, and was being wined and dined by European government leaders - remain imprinted on my memory as two of the most unpleasant experiences of my career.

The first time we met was at the height of the siege of Sarajevo. You may remember it: night after night, our TV screens showed people being shot at by snipers and shelled from the surrounding hills. So there he was, in the studio, the man everyone held responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in a vicious civil war.

I remember telling my colleagues that I would refuse to shake his hand. They ushered him into the studio ahead of me, I sat down opposite him and immediately began the interview. No pleasantries, no chit-chat. When it was over, I muttered a curt "thank you" and walked out.

On the second occasion, we met at his London hotel. He was late, and when he finally arrived, I saw him come into the lobby together with his wife, laden with shopping bags from some of London's best-known department stores. Again, I tried to keep the pleasantries to an absolute minimum.

He was, as many others have remarked, a man with a remarkable capacity for, shall we say, claiming as true things that few others believed. During the siege of Sarajevo, he insisted in our interview that there were no Serb snipers shooting at civilians. No Serb mortars being fired from the hills; no Serb guns firing at UN planes bringing in relief supplies; no "ethnic cleansing" of Muslim and Croat villages.

So now he is to face his accusers at the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague. His capture is a remarkable symbol of how a democratically elected government can dramatically change the political weather. I find it hard to believe that it is a coincidence that he was arrested just four days after the appointment of a new head of Serbia's police intelligence agency, replacing a man who was said to be a close ally of the former Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica.

Don't expect Karadzic's trial to start any time soon. I'd guess early next year is the earliest likely starting date, and proceedings will be, as they always are in such cases, lengthy. And expect to hear a lot about "command responsibility" - will the prosecution be able to prove that Karadzic himself was personally involved in the decisions that led to the killing of thousands, including the slaughter of nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica?

Article 7 (3) of the international war crimes tribunal's statute lays down that the fact that crimes "were committed by a subordinate does not relieve his superior of criminal responsibility if he knew or had reason to know that the subordinate was about to commit such acts, or had done so and the superior failed to take the necessary and reasonable measures to prevent such acts or to punish the perpetrators."

So it won't be enough for Karadzic to argue that he never ordered any massacres. (If you want to see the detail of what he's charged with, you can find it on the tribunal's website here. But I warn you: it doesn't make pleasant reading.) The key allegation is that he "planned, instigated, ordered, committed or otherwise aided and abetted the planning, preparation or execution of the destruction, in whole or in part, of the Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat national, ethnic, racial or religious groups."

Or to use just a single word, genocide.


  • 1. At 01:28am on 25 Jul 2008, dennisjunior1 wrote:

    That must have been an interesting meeting with Mr. Karadzic!

    Complain about this comment

  • 2. At 12:59pm on 25 Jul 2008, threnodio wrote:

    "People are not little stones, or keys in someone's pocket, that can be moved from one place to another just like that … Therefore, we cannot precisely arrange for only Serbs to stay in one part of the country while removing others painlessly. I do not know how Mr Krajišnik and Mr Karadžic will explain that to the world. That is genocide".

    These are the words of Ratko Mladic, apparently in response to 'Directive 7', issued by Karadjic in March, 1995:-

    "Complete the physical separation of Srebrenica from Žepa as soon as possible, preventing even communication between individuals in the two enclaves. By planned and well-thought out combat operations, create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival or life for the inhabitants of Srebrenica."

    The early arrest of Mladic, apart from being an important event in the pursuit of justice could present an opportunity for the two men to condemn each other.

    Complain about this comment

  • 3. At 10:57am on 26 Jul 2008, Xie_Ming wrote:

    "The key allegation is that he "planned, instigated, ordered, committed or otherwise aided and abetted the planning, preparation or execution of the destruction, in whole or in part, of the Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat national, ethnic, racial or religious groups"

    I suppose that everyone should save that phrase

    and then apply it to Netayahu and other charming leaders in Israel with regard to their elimination of the Palestinian people from their own homes in what is to become Eretz Israel.

    Complain about this comment

  • 4. At 12:30pm on 26 Jul 2008, threnodio wrote:

    Xie-Ming -

    You are absolutely entitled to your views regarding the culpability or otherwise of Israeli ministers but is has nothing to do with what happened in Bosnia.

    If there is a link, it is that Karadjic is to be tried for alleged atrocities committed against Muslims. If the international judicial system that victims are entitled to justice regardless of faith or ethnicity, that is surely a positive thing.

    Complain about this comment

  • 5. At 3:18pm on 26 Jul 2008, Xie_Ming wrote:

    Will such trials involve only those whom the dominant power permits? Or will there be an international rule of law applicable to all?

    Is the USA a member of the ICC, or did it pass legislation authorizing the military retrieval of any arrested by the ICC?

    Only an international rule of law, applicable to all and enforced by an international body, will permit civilization to survive and advance.

    Complain about this comment

  • 6. At 4:04pm on 26 Jul 2008, threnodio wrote:

    "States Parties or the United Nations Security Council may refer situations of crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court to the Prosecutor. The Prosecutor evaluates the available information and commences an investigation unless he determines there is no reasonable basis to proceed.

    The Prosecutor may also begin an investigation on his own initiative. In doing so, he receives and analyzes information submitted by a variety of reliable sources. If the Prosecutor concludes there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation, he asks a Pre-Trial Chamber to authorize an investigation."

    In other words, any signatory to the Rome Statute can bring an allegation to the attention of the Prosecutor. The answer to your question is that 'the international rule of law' will apply to and in those countries which have signed up to it. There is not much anyone can do about those who have not.

    However, Karadjic is to be tried by the ITFY, which is separate from the ICC.

    Complain about this comment

  • 7. At 6:35pm on 26 Jul 2008, Xie_Ming wrote:

    The will of the Security Council does NOT
    represent an "international rule of law applicable to all"

    "and enforced by an international body".

    The USA has denigrated pretensions to international law (v. John Bolton)

    and has passed legislation authorizing the military retrieval of any US officials arrested by the ICC.

    The "rule of law" means that the rules apply to everyone

    and requires that they be enforced.

    What is called "international law" today are treaty agreements that can be ignored or denounced by a participant who does not agree with them.

    Complain about this comment

  • 8. At 9:59pm on 26 Jul 2008, threnodio wrote:

    All of which is true and has no bearing on what I previously wrote.

    Complain about this comment

  • 9. At 10:10pm on 26 Jul 2008, evenmorelovely wrote:

    Let's hope they keep the charge-sheet minimalist; less Milosovic, more Saddam(even his execution didn't make anyone look good).

    Complain about this comment

  • 10. At 10:11pm on 26 Jul 2008, evenmorelovely wrote:

    Edit:it should have been "even if his..."

    Complain about this comment

  • 11. At 10:13pm on 26 Jul 2008, evenmorelovely wrote:

    Edit: it should have been "...the manner of his execution..."

    Complain about this comment

  • 12. At 10:13pm on 26 Jul 2008, Xie_Ming wrote:

    Talk about "justice" and "law" is simply political window dressing.

    We will not get law and justice until there is a supranational organization with teeth.

    Our pundits do not do public understanding a service by using the discourse of politicians.

    The truth is rather naked.

    For dull intellects: If Serbia, why not Israel?

    NEWSHOUR made an attempt today with three experts. The internationalist became lost in details. The British barrister came forth with thunderous and meaningless assertions. The American explained that it was all politics.

    Complain about this comment

  • 13. At 10:20pm on 26 Jul 2008, threnodio wrote:

    You are preaching to the converted Xie_Ming. I agree with you.

    I merely say that until such time as notable abstainers sign up a truly international system, this is the best that can be done and that is better than nothing.

    Complain about this comment

  • 14. At 01:18am on 27 Jul 2008, threnodio wrote:

    By the way, Republika Srpska not Serbia (for dull intellects)

    Complain about this comment

  • 15. At 01:30am on 27 Jul 2008, MarcusAureliusII wrote:

    "I don't get to meet many alleged mass murderers in my line of business"

    "My two encounters with Radovan Karadzic - in the days before he was indicted for genocide and war crimes, and was being wined and dined by European government leaders - remain imprinted on my memory as two of the most unpleasant experiences of my career."

    What a truely sad and telling commentary this is on the attitude European journalists in general and BBC in particular has towards the news. I'd think that just about any American journalist worth his salt would be thrilled with the opportunity of a lifetime to meet and even interview a famous or infamous mass murdering sociopath. From an American journalist's point of view it should be his job to present individuals of note, good, bad, or otherwise to his audience as openly, completely, and objectively as possible by letting them tell their own story and let the audience decide for themselves. Instead, a clearly biased prejudical view colors every word about him you say Mr. Lustig. It is hard to take anything presented here seriously not because I think he isn't as guilty of crimes against humanity as you do but because your presentation does not allow me to come to that conclusion from the facts myself, you want to force it on me. You clearly don't trust me to come to your conclusion because you are afraid I might come to a different one (although this time I happen to agree with you.) That is why by my expectations, BBC is not always journalism, it is sometimes propaganda. To learn what my idea of outstanding journalism is, watch Charlie Rose's interview of Nicolas Sarkozy, IMO one of the most masterful interviews I have ever seen. I've watched it over a dozen times and I am fascinated and learn more from it each time. BTW, I have a very low opinion of Mr. Sarkozy. I don't think he is particularly smart and I don't think in the end he hasa prayer of actually improving France even if he knew what he wadoing.

    Objectivity, disengagement, and disenthrallment Mr. Lustig are among the hallmarks of excellent journalism, something in short supply around Bush House.

    Complain about this comment

  • 16. At 01:40am on 27 Jul 2008, threnodio wrote:

    Whereas a blog is the one place a journalist can express his personal thoughts without breaking the Corporation's guide lines.

    Complain about this comment

  • 17. At 7:03pm on 27 Jul 2008, evenmorelovely wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 18. At 8:22pm on 31 Jul 2008, Xie_Ming wrote:

    To be blunt:

    We try the losers, not the winners.

    I posted some references concerning "human rights" on the Open University site, but it is more the "Open Kindergarten" site and such information is not welcome.

    Before our pundits continue repeateing catch phrases (mantras, cliches) concerning "human rights", it would be well to look into what these are claimed to be and who, in reality, assents to them.

    Complain about this comment

  • 19. At 01:00am on 01 Aug 2008, Giambattista wrote:

    Radovan Karadzic has appeared at The Hague! And there should be no moral crisis about this. Wartime Nationalist Presidents need to be brought to justice because of the sheer terror that they instigate and inflict upon people. Karadzic is no exception since he is responsible for all kinds of hideous war crimes, crimes against humanity and a host of atrocities committed between 1992 to 1996.
    However, the trial may well prove to expose more than a murderous crackpot dictator. There is, or should be, accountability and responsibility on both sides of the dock to be explored and in full.
    Karadzic remained under Serb noses in disguise as a peddler of alternative medicine; it is to be hoped that the world is not to be duped by an alternative form of justice: an International Criminal Court.
    As the West stands united against a war criminal, let it also question the legitimacy of this new kind of justice – the international law book is still a relatively new edition, one composed on the back of the crisis in Bosnia.
    Intervention, just like justice itself, has an international flavour, but to what extent is this legitimate?
    As Europe’s ‘most wanted’ moves to take centre stage, who will be placing the spotlight on him and for what reasons, exactly?
    Will handing over this fugitive really demonstrate Serbia’s credentials and guarantee accession to the European Union?
    But at what price?
    International jurisdiction was also responsible for the protection of an enclave called Srebrenica! And a former MP for Yeovil later took prime place as High Representative in Sarajevo!
    Just as those who use torture and violence are not statesmen, so those who rule despotically -liberally or otherwise - should not be exempt from close scrutiny.
    ‘The history of the world is the world’s court of justice’ said Schiller, who believed that the good is the beautiful.
    Where and who are these absolutes now?
    Of course, the complexities of the Balkan conflict cannot be reduced to good against bad, and to attempt to do so would be naive. But this trial and its attempts at justice must condemn not only the tyrant, but also all those who use power unjustly and extol the virtues of exercising unrestrained and undemocratic power. Experimenting in nation building is not an absolute science, yet it demands absolute power.
    Power and corruption are in the dock at The Hague : the Bosnian Serb military commander / Serbian New Age guru; and New Age Humanitarianism.
    It is my hope that humanity, in all its forms, can win here and make the world a better place.

    Complain about this comment

  • 20. At 05:13am on 01 Aug 2008, Xie_Ming wrote:


    Has much to recommend it-

    The comments are, however, one-sided and incomplete.

    Hitler was excoriated but Stalin's genocide and ethnic cleansing were worse and he was never tried.

    The Serbs are blamed, but what of the Bosnians?

    Saddam was a nasty fellow- what of Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush?

    #19 suggests that this trial marks the beginning of a new chapter in international law. I disagree, for it seems to me to be a continuation of the same old and flawed system.

    We need a law that applies to all, to the winners as well as to the losers.

    Complain about this comment

  • 21. At 11:08am on 01 Aug 2008, Giambattista wrote:

    Not 'one-sided and incomplete'– I am neither attempting a lesson in History, nor am I looking to impose a point of view.
    Yes, history is littered with anomalies and travesties, and we are fortunate enough to judge them, not just for the sake of comparison, but for the sake of change. The difference now is that the international community, predominantly western and economically powerful, imposes itself and its own form of justice on all those unable to determine it for themselves. This process includes the imposition of democracy itself.
    It is my belief that this 'chapter' has its origins in ethical foreign policies that inflate the human rights agenda into the realm of international law. (Indeed, New Labour came to power when it was positively raining ethical foreign policies.) This imposition, just like force-feeding democracy, may well have the appeal of a moral crusade. But it is just that. Empowering citizens and enabling them to make decisions at the level of domestic politics is, in my opinion, far more powerful than subjugating justice to the whims of the international community – it magnifies the 'us and them' scenario through the lens of charitable intervention and does nothing for self-determination and self-governance.
    Yes, we do need a 'law that applies to all' but the human rights proposition has dubious universal jurisdiction and legislative authority. Would any of the 'nasty fellows' have stopped after an Amnesty International letter, a Coldplay concert, or a mass demonstration? And what happens when 'nasty fellows' are on our side anyway? And, when are we not the 'nasty fellows' (whoever 'we' are)?
    The International Criminal Court purports to empower the powerless in states where human rights abuses are rife and where Crackpots dictate. And this is different because it is international institutions, unelected by definition, making decisions. Fewer policies and decisions are being made by those who have the responsibilities of power – elected governments!
    Karadzic will go down, but on whose authority? And will this act truly empower citizens in the Balkans so that state oppression does not rear its ugly head again? Or will Serbian accession to the European Union supersede ?

    Complain about this comment

View these comments in RSS


Sign in

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.