Karadzic in the dock

The capture of the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic on July 21 might be acclaimed as a victory for human rights, but it is far from certain that justice will be meted out. He was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia for crimes against humanity, including genocide, committed during the 1992-95 Balkan civil war. Mr. Karadzic, who has been at large for 13 years, was suddenly arrested in Belgrade. He is expected to be handed over to the custody of the tribunal established by the United Nations Security Council. The former President of the self-styled Sprska Republic could be prosecuted on charges that he was responsible for the deaths of more than 10,000 civilians in the shelling of Sarajevo during the 43 month siege of the city; the genocidal massacre of 8,000 men and boys in Srebrenica after his forces overran the U.N.-protected enclave in 1995; and the ouster from their homes of hundreds of thousands of non-Serbs in a process of ethnic cleansing. Mr. Karazdic could be punished with imprisonment for life if the prosecution is able to prove its case. The tribunal’s performance has come in for much criticism and its sentencing record (32 punished out of 161 charged) is not impressive. In defence, the tribunal can claim that the successor-states to Yugoslavia, which had primary responsibility to procure witnesses and other evidence, have not been cooperative. These defects might not show up in the proceedings against Mr. Karadzic. This will also hold true for the Bosnian Serb commander, General Ratko Mladic, if he is apprehended and put on trial.

Mr. Karadzic might be entertaining a faint hope that the tribunal could be terminated before things get really hot for him. Under a “completion strategy” authorised by the U.N. Security Council, the tribunal is scheduled to complete all trials by the end of 2008 and dispose of appeals by 2010. If this remains unchanged, the international tribunal might be wound up just months after it takes up the case against a person who is believed to head the list of those who committed atrocities at the time of Yugoslavia’s break-up. Theoretically, the Karadzic files could be transferred to the war crimes court set up by Serbia. However, the state tribunals of Yugoslavia’s successor-states have not inspired much confidence so far. Will the Security Council extend the international tribunal’s mandate so that a major war criminal can be brought to justice?

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