Radovan Karadžić

12.04.2016 ( Last modified: 20.07.2019 )
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Radovan Karadžić was born on 19 June 1945 in Savnik, currently part of the Republic of Montenegro.

He is one of the founding members of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) and he served as its president from 12 July 1990 to 19 July 1996. On 27 March 1992, he became the president of the Bosnian Serb Republic National Security Council. Karadzic became one of the three members of the presidency before becoming on 12 May 1995, the sole President of the Serbian Republic from 17 December 1992 to 19 July 1996. As such, Karadžić was also the Commander-in-Chief.

In July 1991, the Serbian officials of Bosnia, particularly Karadžić, sought to take control of certain Bosnia and Herzegovina’s regions, which were declared integral part of the Serbian Republic. They intentionally created inhuman life conditions for the non-Serbian population, terrorizing them in order to force them to leave these areas. Persons refusing to leave were expelled or killed. Until the end of September 1995, persecutions and expulsions were consistently rising.

The Muslim population sought refuge mainly in the Bosnian rural regions, which had been spared until then by the Serbian forces of Bosnia, particularly in Srebrenica. On 16 April 1993, the United Nations Security Council adopted the resolution 819 urging all parties of the conflict to treat Srebrenica, Zepa, Gorazde and Tuzla as « safety zones » that must not be the target of any armed attack or any other hostile act.

However, around 6 July 1995, the Serbian forces of Bosnia, following the order of Karadzic, bombarded Srebrenica and attacked the UN observation posts located in the “safety zone”. On 11 July, they entered the city. Several thousands of Muslim people were gathered in the enclave, men, women and children. They sought refuge in the United Nations complex in Potocari, inside the “safety zone”. On the following day, the Serbian forces of Bosnia separated men from women and children and placed them in detention. Between 11 and 18 of July, the men were slaughtered en masse

When the Serbian forces entered  the enclave, another group of around 15 000 Muslim, mainly men, chose to flee through the forests for Tuzla. Thousands of them were captured by the Serbian forces and executed. The rest of the Muslim population was expelled outside the Srebrenica enclave, achieving the purpose of the ethnic cleansing targeted at the Muslim population.

The SDS and the governmental authorities gathered the non-Serbian population in camps and detention centers, guarded by police and soldiers, under the command of the high Serbian authorities, particularly Radovan Karadžić. Muslims and Bosnian Croats were detained in inhumane conditions, in constant fear of physical, moral and sexual violence. Thousands of detainees died because of these inhumane conditions or were executed.

Between 1 April 1992 and 30 November 1995, the Serbian forces of Bosnia, under the direction and command of Karadžić, carried out an attack against Sarajevo from the strategic positions in the center and the suburbs. They besieged the city and through bombardment as well as isolated shootings caused thousands of civilian casualties, children and elderly persons including. This siege lasted for 44 months and brought a climate of terror to the civilians.

Between 26 May and 2 June 1995, in response to the NATO air strikes, the Serbian forces of Bosnia, under the direction and command of Karadžić, detained more than 200 military observers and members of the UN peacekeeping forces, particularly in Pale and Sarajevo. They were kept hostage at military or strategic sites in order to protect them from other NATO strikes. Some of the hostages were abused and threatened during their captivity.


Legal Procedure

Karadžić was arrested in Belgrade on 21 July 2008 and transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on 30 July 2008.

A first indictment against Karadžić and Ratko Mladic was issued on 25 July 1995. Karadžić and Mladic were accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Convention and other serious violations of international humanitarian law and customs of war.

An amended indictment was issued on 19 October 2009. Karadžić and Mladic were prosecuted based on their individual criminal responsibility and joint criminal enterprise. Among the charges were:

  • Two charges of genocide
  • Five charges of crimes against humanity:
    • Persecution
    • Extermination
    • Murder
    • Expulsion
    • Other inhuman acts (forced deportation)
  • Four charges of war crimes
    • Murder
    • Terrorism
    • Attacks directed against civilians
    • Hostage taking

It was alleged that, from October 1991 until 30 November 1995, Karadžić participated in joint criminal enterprise aiming at exterminating Muslim inhabitants and Bosnian Croats in the territory claimed by the Bosnian Serbs within Bosnia and Herzegovina.

During his second appearance on 29 August 2008, Karadžić refused to plead guilty or non-guilty. As the Court rules required that the accused made a plea within 30 days after his arrest, a not guilty plea was automatically registered on his behalf.

The trial started on 26 October 2009. Karadžić argued that he didn’t have enough time to prepare his defence and declared that he would boycott the trial and not attend the hearings. On 19 November 2009, after the Trial Chamber’s decision of 5 November 2009, the Registry appointed him a defence lawyer in case he would continue to boycott his trial that was scheduled to start on 1 March 2010. The appeal lodged by Karadžić against this decision was rejected by the Trial Chamber on 23 December 2009 and confirmed by the Appeal Chamber on 12 February 2010.

The trial resumed on 1 March 2010. In his opening statement, Karadžić denied the crimes for which he was charged, including the four years of Sarajevo siege and the Srebrenica massacre which he qualified as a “myth”. From April 2010 to May 2012, the office of the prosecutor made public its evidence while the Defence presented its evidence from October 2012 to May 2014.

The verdict was rendered on 24 March 2016. Karadžić was found guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian law and laws and customs of war as the former President of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia as well as the then Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. He was found guilty for his participation in the Srebrenica genocide in 1995 as well as for persecution, extermination, murder, deportation, hostage taking and inhuman and degrading treatment.

He was acquitted of charges alleging participation in genocide committed in 1992 in the other parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Karadžić was sentenced to 40 years of imprisonment.

On 22 July 2016, Karadžić appealed this judgment. Fifty grounds of appeal were raised, including: lack of fair trial (infringement of the principle of presumption of innocence and lack of impartiality) and erroneous qualification of the crimes.

The sentence rendered by the Trial Chamber had been contested not only by Karadžić but also by the prosecution. The prosecutor sought a life sentence for Karadžić from the beginning of the trial. In its appeal, the prosecution alleged that a 40-year sentence did not reflect the Trial Chamber’s own findings and analysis of the gravity of the crimes committed by Karadžić and his responsibility for the number of crimes which were in total more serious than any of the other crimes attributed to any other person before the ICTY. Moreover, the prosecution alleged that the Court made an obvious mistake in not sentencing Karadžić in perpetuity, while in similar cases the established practice was to render a life sentence (Prosecutor v. Radovan Karadžić, MICT-13-55-A, 20 March 2019, para. 761). The Appeals Chamber confirmed the prosecution’s position in its judgment and agreed that Karadžić’s 40-year sentence was blatantly inadequate and unreasonable in view of the “unparalleled seriousness” of his crimes (Prosecutor v. Radovan Karadžić, MICT-13-55-A, 20 March 2019, para. 766). The President of the Appeals Chamber, Judge Vagn Prüsse Joensen, stated that the judges of the Trial Chamber had “underestimated the extreme gravity of the crimes committed” and emphasized that “the extent and the systematic cruelty “of these crimes justify life imprisonment. The appeal hearing was held on 23 and 24 April 2018 before the Hague Division of the International Criminal Tribunals Mechanism (MICT), which took over from the ICTY on 31 December 2017.

The appeal trial took place on 23 and 24 April 2018 before the Division of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) in The Hague, a body that took over the tasks of the ICTY after its closure on 31 December 2017.

On 20 March 2019, Karadžić’s appeal was rejected, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Appeal Chamber of the IRMCT.

On 28 March 2019, Karadžić lodged an appeal against the stricter punishment. The decisions of the Appeal Chamber of the IRMCT are generally final. That being said, Karadžić made eight grounds of appeal against the life imprisonment sentence. The IRMCT judges will now have to decide whether to accept the application for a review of the award on appeal or not.



The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia:

The conflict in the former Yugoslavia, that took place between 1991 and 1999, shocked the international community because of the unspeakable crimes perpetrated by the different parties to the conflict (including number of massacres, forced displacement of populations, existence of concentration camps …) which were reported by the global press. The conflict is generally considered as an accumulation of separate conflicts, motivated by ethnical hatred and nationalism: the war in Slovenia (1991), the war in Croatia (1991-1995), the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992-1995), and the war in Kosovo (1998-1999). During the war in Kosovo, the NATO Coalition bombardment took place in 1999.

These conflicts were interlinked with the fragmentation of Yugoslavia. The countries that previously formed Yugoslavia gradually declared their independence. In general, these wars came to an end through peace treaties.

In order to reestablish international peace and security in the region, the Security Council (UNSC) decided to create the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The UNSC acted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and issued the Resolution 827 on 25 May 1993. It was decided by the UNSC that the numerous allegations of mass murders, systematic detentions, rapes, ethnical cleansings, displacement of populations and other serious violations of humanitarian and human rights law constituted a threat to international peace and security and therefore justified an action by the UNSC. The Tribunal was created when the conflict was still ongoing. The UNSC has expressed its hope that the ICTY would help to put an end the violence occurring in the region. The Tribunal was based in The Hague in the Netherlands.

The Tribunal was competent to judge persons presumably responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) – grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, other violations of the laws and customs of war, genocides and crimes against humanity – committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia since 1991. Since its establishment, the ICTY has indicted more than 160 individuals, including heads of state and members of the government.

The mandate of the Tribunal was supposed to expire on 31 December 2009, but the UNSC unanimously decided to extend the mandate of several judges, including the permanent judges, so that the ongoing trials could come to an end. On 22 December 2010, the UNSC adopted a Resolution 1966, establishing the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT). The IRMCT came into existence on 1 July 2013. The Mechanism guarantees that cases which were not finished before the ICTY continue to be judged by the Mechanism and hence the closure of the Tribunal does not result in impunity, for example in case of the fugitives. It also conducted all appeals lodged before 1 July 2013.

The Tribunal ceased its activities in December 2017, prepared and transferred its cases to the Mechanism. The Mechanism is a provisional body which helps to ensure that the cases started by the ICTY do not result in impunity, for example in case of fugitives. It also handles cases of Karadzic, Mladic and Hadzic as a court of first instance and deals with appeals lodged after 1 July 2013.

The ICTY was not the only competent body with jurisdiction over the crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia. The Tribunal exercised its jurisdiction concurrently with national jurisdictions. Nevertheless, it had primacy and could take over the cases of domestic courts at any time of the proceedings (Art 9 of the ICTY Statute). The Statute does not explain in detail how the procedure concerning this takeover was supposed to be exercised, but the primacy had been reaffirmed by the judges in the Rules of Procedure and Evidence. It was applied when an international crime was prosecuted by a national court as an ordinary crime, when the national court was not credible, or if the case was closely tied to another case ongoing before the ICTY.

National Jurisdictions:

National jurisdictions are also competent to deal with crimes committed in former Yugoslavia.

Trials of persons accused of war crimes have been opened by the tribunals of Bosnia and Herzegovina. A special section for war crimes has been opened by the Criminal and Appeal Division of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The War Crimes Chamber in Bosnia and Herzegovina is competent to prosecute the most serious war crimes. It has been created to allow the ICTY to concentrate on high-ranked perpetrators. Its establishment has been considered as necessary for the efficient prosecution of war crimes committed in Bosnia. The inauguration of this Special Chamber took place on 9 March 2005.

Moreover, pursuant to the Resolution 1244 of the UNSC of 10 June 1999, a UN administration was created in Kosovo. Consequently, panels “Regulation 64” have been established in the courts of Kosovo in 2000. These are hybrid courts embedded in local judiciary, having two international judges and one national judge on the bench. These panels work in collaboration with the ICTY and the Mechanism. They have jurisdiction over individuals presumed responsible for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Their task is to focus on perpetrators of a less hierarchical importance.

In Serbia, the Office of the Prosecutor for war crimes has been established on 1 July 2003. It has been created in order to find and prosecute authors of crimes against humanity and war crimes, as well as for other crimes recognized in the ICTY Statute. Its jurisdiction does not depend on nationality, citizenship, race or the religion of neither of the authors nor of the victims, as long as the acts have been committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia after 1 January 1991. Its headquarters is in Belgrade, Serbia.

Other national courts are also competent by virtue of the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows states that have a specific legal provisions in their domestic laws to prosecute the authors of the most serious crimes (core crimes) regardless of their nationality, nationality of the victims, or the place where the crimes were committed.



Radovan Karadžić is the second highest official judged for the crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic died during his trial.

This decision is one of the last rendered by an international body in the context of the wars raged in former Yugoslavia.


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