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'Bumbling' Karadzic faces political justice

  • 24 July 2008
It took almost 13 years, but Radovan Karadzic has finally been detained. In 1995, the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia slapped an indictment on the former leader of the Bosnian Serbs for crimes against humanity and acts of genocide. Another duly followed. Until now, the former leader of the Bosnian Serb nationalists has proven elusive, often hiding among paramilitaries and sympathisers.

Along with military commander Ratko Mladic, the slightly bumbling Karadzic made a name for himself stirring the heated pot of Serbian nationalism in the wake of Yugoslavia's dissolution. With the declaration of independence by Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992, Karadzic, then head of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), struck back at both Bosnian and Croatian forces with effective and brutal results.

His darkest achievements remain his role in the brutal massacre of 10,000 during the 43 month siege of Sarajevo, and some 7500 Bosnian Muslims (or Bosniaks) in the cruelly named safe haven of Srebenica on the watch of Dutch peacekeepers in the summer of 1995.

International war crimes trials, notably of foreign leaders, have their problems. The Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court may have 106 signatories, but it also has vocal critics on all sides of politics. Such a creature can only be as effective as its participating members. International law is, after all, a beast of consensus.

The ledger of opposition against international war crimes trials is impressively weighted. Even such wise heads as George Orwell were against them. Lawyers, he suggested in 1944, should not be in the business of hauling heads-of-state before tribunals for acts of foreign policy and war. Best let them go and suffer the ignominy of public execration. To do otherwise would provide the accused with a ticket to martyrdom.

Those on the Allied side in 1945 would have none of it, and the formula of the international criminal tribunal was born in the rumble of Nuremberg.

Another conventional argument against such state trials is their impact on the society in question. Putting a talismanic figure of a nationalist or ethnic grouping before the law, and one judged by international figures, tends to fuel rather than dampen tensions. An embittered population is an unruly one. This had the potential to derail the ICTY proceedings of such figures as former Serb leader, Slobodan Milosevic.

As time went by, it was clear that the tribunal had had some measure of success. The Serbs, initially cast