back to top
World

These Are The Crimes That Led A Man To Be Found Guilty Of Genocide

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić was finally found criminally responsible for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

Posted on

Almost two decades after the Bosnian War ended, a UN-backed tribunal on Thursday found Radovan Karadžić, the one-time leader of the short-lived Republika Srpska, guilty of ten charges of war crimes — including genocide.

Karadžić was sentenced to 40 years in prison. Eight of those years will be subtracted because of the time he has already spent behind bars in the Hague.

The 70-year old, who is nicknamed the 'Butcher of Bosnia,' was held responsible for the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys by the Bosnian Serb forces under his command.

After the death of longtime leader Josip Broz Tito in 1980, and the subsequent collapse of the USSR, Yugoslavia was falling apart in 1991. A multiethnic country, the various ethnic groups that had been held together Tito were clamoring for independence.

Christophe Simon / AFP / Getty Images

The shorter version of what followed: rising nationalism, combined with the fall of Communism as a unifying factor, saw Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina attempting to break away, just as federal government attempted to rein them in. The Serbian government under President Slobodan Milosevic controlled the Yugoslav National Army — originally tasked with ending the secession movements in Croatia and Bosnia — which became more focused on spreading Serbian control.

Advertisement

This dynamic played out most heavily in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where Bosnian Croats and Serbians attempted to form their own enclaves against Bosniak Muslim resistance. The Serbians dubbed their territory the Republika Srpska, led by Karadžić.

When the fighting got worse, the United Nations deployed peacekeepers to help enforce "safe zones" for civilians. But the peacekeepers allowed Serbian forces to take over the city of Srebrenica, where 8,000 men and boys were subsequently massacred.

Karadžić admitted that a slaughter had occurred at the time, but denied that he had been involved. Instead, he blamed it on a rogue element within the Republika Sprska's army.

Thierry Saliou / AFP / Getty Images

“With Srebrenica, unfortunately, I cannot deny everything that is alleged, but I have to contest the extent and background of what happened,” he said soon after the massacre. “Again, it wasn’t an army unit that was tasked to do the misdeed; rather it was a sort of patchwork, a random collection of guys summoned to do the killings, to their surprise, against their own will and interest, and it was so clandestine that the perpetrators hid it from their most immediate commander.”

The Bosnian War ended with the signing of the Dayton Accords in 1995. But soon after the peace agreement between Croatia, Bosnia, and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the issue of war crimes gained momentum, and all eyes were on Karadžić.

But he vanished. Karadžić went deep underground, going unseen for nearly a decade despite once being the public face of a breakaway state.

Advertisement

In the meantime, the United Nations established an ad-hoc tribunal called the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), where military and civilian leaders could be prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Slobodan Milosevic, who was also charged with genocide against Kosovar Albanians, was arrested in 2001 and faced 66 charges of war crimes before the ICTY. But he died in The Hague due to heart failure in 2006 before he could be convicted.

Karadžić turned up in Belgrade in 2008, the capital of the now independent Serbia. Heavily bearded and white-haired, he'd been living under the noses of investigators for nearly a decade.

Afp / AFP / Getty Images

"Under the false name Dragan Dabic, Karadzic promoted himself as a 'Spiritual Explorer' and a practitioner of alternative medicine," the Telegraph reported at the time of his arrest. "So confident was he of his disguise that he even gave public lectures on the subject of 'Human Quantum Energy'."

When Karadžić was finally captured in 2008 after he had been hiding for nearly a decade, not everyone was pleased. Far-right nationalists in Serbia held demonstrations in his support and clashed with the police.

Standing inside the tribunal on Thursday, Karadžić faced eleven charges of war crimes, including murder, extermination, and two counts of genocide, the first for acts throughout Bosnia, the second specifically for Srebrenica.

The trial lasted for five years, with another 18 months being spent deliberating the verdict and sentencing. Throughout it all, he maintained that he was not guilty of the crimes he was charged with.

Elvis Barukcic / AFP / Getty Images

“It is very simple to see from all the evidence that the president, in such circumstances, couldn’t do any more, and that my permanent fight to preserve the peace, prevent the war and decrease the sufferings of everyone regardless of religion were an exemplary effort deserving respect rather than persecution,” he said in an email interview in 2008.

The court disagreed, and found him criminally responsible for the acts of genocide committed in Srebrenica and nine other counts. (They found him not guilty in terms of the genocide throughout Bosnia.)

Hayes Brown is a world news editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Hayes Brown at hayes.brown@buzzfeed.com.

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.