Today, a special UN tribunal sentenced Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic to 40 years in jail for crimes he committed during the Bosnian War. Karadzic was a chief architect of a Serbian campaign to eradicate Bosnia’s Muslims, leading to the deaths of 200,000 Bosnians between 1992-1995.
During a speech given on October 14, 1991, just months before the Bosnian War broke out, Karadzic warned the Bosnian parliament of the consequences of voting for independence, despite the secession of Slovenia and Croatia from the federation months earlier.
“This, what you are doing, is not good. This is the path that you want to take Bosnia and Herzegovina on, the same highway of hell and death that Slovenia and Croatia went on. Don’t think that you won’t take Bosnia and Herzegovina into hell, and the Muslim people maybe into extinction. Because the Muslim people cannot defend themselves if there is war here.”
The hell he described was already on TV screens across the Western world. While Slovenia escaped most of the fighting that consumed the rest of the fracturing Yugoslav state, Croatia did not. The war, which started in March for the Croats, had already reached its peak by the time Karadzic gave his speech. Just weeks before his speech warning against Bosnian independence, the Yugoslav navy had blockaded Croatian ports and fighting raged between Croat and Serb military units.
These weren’t the only remarks made by Karadzic advocating for violence against Bosnia’s Muslims. During his trial, a list of radio intercepts captured during the war were recited to the court. In one recording, he said “Sarajevo will be a black cauldron, where 300,000 Muslims will die. It will be a real bloodbath.” The siege of Sarajevo was the longest of a capital city in modern warfare, with the Bosnian capital besieged for over 1,400 days before a Croat-Bosnian offensive forced the Serbs from their positions overlooking the city.
Karadzic was part of a cadre of Bosnian Serbs who were vehemently opposed to the break up of Yugoslavia. Serbs dominated the effort to keep Yugoslavia together, as the newly-formed states stopped sending conscripts to the national military and non-Serbs defected to their ethnic homelands. With the secession of Croatia and Slovenia from Yugoslavia months earlier, they wanted to ensure the same would not take place in Bosnia, whose population contained a larger Serbian minority and was located closer to Serb majority regions.
The former Bosnian Serb leader was found guilty of 10 of 11 charges laid against him, including a single count of genocide, five counts of crimes against humanity, and four counts of war crimes. The most important charge was of genocide, as it implicated Karadzic in the planning and execution of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995. A key piece of evidence was another intercepted radio call, in which he said, “The time had come. I was in favour of all the decisions that we made and I support them. I ordered in verbal and written form to attack Srebrenica.”
The verdict was delivered following a five year trial and a further 18 months of deliberation before the decision was handed down by the ICTY, the special tribunal for war crimes during the break up of Yugoslavia.