Justice after Genocide (WIP)


Front of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)

In the summer of 2011, I was on a study abroad trip with James Madison College at MSU to Brussels, Belgium. There, we learned about how the European Union operated and the political structure of the EU. We also went to the political and military headquarters of NATO to learn about NATO’s role in the new world following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Out of the side trips our class took, one of them took us The Hague, where we would learn the operations of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Our class was able to meet with the judges as they talked to us about international law and the enforcement of these laws. But we also had a chance to sit in a court case that was ongoing that day to observe the preceding.

Up the stairs from the main rotunda was the court room, which was separated by privacy glass. From there, we can see into the courtroom and hear what’s going on. There in the courtroom was the former Serbian president Radovan Karadžić. I’m not really sure if he could see us on the other side, but he and I managed to stare eye to eye for a good minute. It was an unreal and most uncomfortable feeling to stare into the eyes of someone that lead one of the bloodiest atrocities within the modern era.

I’ve met many important political figures in my life as following my studies at James Madison, but being able to see this man was a different feeling, I’ve never seen such a person in my life; it was both exciting but also made me very uncomfortable. But having seeing him eye to eye and my subsequent emotional reaction, among others I was in the room with rises a question of justice following a genocide. Why specific individuals must be held accountable for a crime that is massive in size that includes more than certain individuals, but many people. Using Radovan Karadžić’s ICTY case, I will explore the emotions and the visuals of justice after genocide. Regardless of the outcome, why is it important for Radovan to be shown to the world as a criminal, answering the questions of the prosecutors in public?

Understanding the ICTY

Before going into the context, an understanding must be made about the body dealing the justice itself. Radovan’s case is being held that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague, Netherlands. The court was established under Resolution 827 of the United Nations Security Council, which was passed on May 25, 1993. It has jurisdiction over four clusters of crimes committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia since 1991: grace breaches of the Geneva Conventions, violations of the laws or customs of war, genocide, and crimes against humanity. The maximum sentence it can impose is life imprisonment. Various countries have signed agreements with the UN, such as Norway and Sweden, to carry out the sentences.

The final indictments were issued in December 2004, the last of which were confirmed and unsealed in the spring of 2005.[1] The Tribunal aims to complete all trails by the end of 2012 and all appeals by 2015, with the exception of Radovan Karadžić whose trial is expected to end in 2014 and recently the arrested Ratko Mladić and Goran Hadžić. The United Nations Security Council called upon the Tribunal to finish its work by 31 December 2014 to prepare for its closure and transfer of its responsibilities to the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals which will begin functioning for the ICTY branch on 1 July 2013.

In 2004, the ICTY published a list of five successes which it claimed it had accomplished:[2]
1. “Spearheading the shift from impunity to accountability”, pointing out that, until very recently, it was the only court judging crimes committed as part of the Yugoslav conflict, since prosecutors in the former Yugoslavia were, as a rule, reluctant to prosecute such crimes.

2. “Establishing the facts”, highlighting the extensive evidence-gathering and lengthy findings of fact that Tribunal judgments produced.

3. “Bringing to justice thousands of victims and giving them a voice”, pointing out the large number of witnesses that had been brought before the Tribunal

4. “The accomplishments in international law”, describing the fleshing out of several international criminal law concepts which had not been ruled on since the Nuremberg Trials

5. “Strengthening the Rule of Law”, referring to the Tribunal’s role in promoting the use of international standards in war crimes prosecutions by former Yugoslav republics.

It is interesting to point out that the court lists as their third accomplishment as “giving a voice to thousands of victims and bringing justice in their name”; but does it really bring justice to the thousands of victims? Throughout the years of the court, there continues to be protests at the court or official UN buildings over “unfair verdicts” that the court will hand down; this can range from the average 30 year jail sentence to acquittal. Most protesters feel that the verdicts aren’t enough for the accusers and in some cases, be given a trail back in the Balkan states.[3]  Scholars agree that international justice, such as the ICTY, need to foster reconciliation between the state and the citizens affected.

David Tolbert, the president of the International Center for Transitional Justice argues justice can only come to those affected by such atrocities if justice is served in their point of view, not the state institutions view. It makes little sense to think reconciliation can mean the same thing in the context of a war between states and the intimate violence between communities driven apart by civil war.[4] Yet it doesn’t help the situation when the current president of Serbia, Tomislav Nikolić, denied genocide happened in his state less than 24 hours when he was elected into office in 2012. Nikolić stated on Montenegrin television that “there was no genocide in Srebrenica. In Srebrenica, grave war crimes were committed by some Serbs who should be found, prosecuted and punished…It is very difficult to indict someone and prove before a court that an event qualifies as genocide.” Nikolić also stated that he wouldn’t attend the annual commemoration of the Srebrenica massacre: “Don’t always ask the Serbian president if he is going to Srebrenica, my predecessor was there and paid tribute. Why should every president do the same?”[5] Though the next following year in April, he would apologize for the comments denying the genocide, yet it shows how fragile of an issue that justice after genocide in the Balkan states is today.


Radovan Karadžić in the courtroom of the ICTY

Who is Radovan Karadžić?

Radovan Karadžić, was the first president of the Republic of Srpska, which was a breakaway state of Bosnia and Herzegovina following the secessions of Slovenia and Croatia. Karadžić, also known as the “Butcher of Bosnia”[1] was arrested in Belgrade on July 21, 2008. Radovan following the Balkans wars, changed his entire identity to avoid capture by the international community. He disguised himself under the name of Patar Glumac, posing as a Croatian seller of herbal solutions and ointments.c

Radovan Karadžić at the time of capture in July 2008

Radovan is accused by the ICTY of personal and command responsibility for numerous war crimes committed against non-Serbs, in his roles as Supreme Commander of the Bosnian Serb armed forces and President of the National Security Council of the Repubika Srpska. He is accused by the same authority of being responsible for the deaths of more than 7,500 Muslims. Under his command, his forces initiated the Siege of Sarajevo. He is also accused of ordering the Srebrenica genocide of 1995, directing Bosnian Serb forces to “create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival of life” in the UN safe area. He is currently being tried under 10 counts, there are as follows:[1]
Count 1: Genocide. On 28 June 2012, the trial chamber granted a defense motion for acquittal on this count as “the evidence, even if taken at its highest, did not reach the level from which a reasonable trier of fact could conclude that genocide occurred in the municipalities”. Motions for acquittal on nine other counts were dismissed.

Count 2: Persecutions on Political, Racial and Religious Grounds, a Crime against Humanity.
Count 3: Extermination, a Crime Against Humanity.
Count 4: Murder, a Crime Against Humanity.
Count 5: Murder, a Violation of the Laws or Customs of War.
Count 6: Deportation, a Crime Against Humanity.
Count 7: Inhumane Acts (forcible transfer), a Crime Against Humanity.
Count 8: Acts of Violence the Primary Purpose of which is to Spread Terror among the Civilian Population, a Violation of the Laws or Customs of War.
Count 9: Unlawful Attacks on Civilians, a Violation of the Laws or Customs of War.
Count 10: Taking of Hostages, a Violation of the Laws or Customs of War.

The Notion of Justice after Genocide

Finding justice after a mass atrocity is a difficult concept to apprehend. First, who do we hold accountable for the charges of crimes against humanity; the people that committed the crimes on the ground or the people that directed the orders to kill to the people on the ground? A sort of precedent that would help future endeavors of mass atrocities would be the Nuremberg Trails, where for the first time in mass publicity, a face was given to crimes against humanity from Nazi Germany. Though the trails did receive criticism, Critics of the Nuremberg trials argued that the charges against the defendants were only defined as “crimes” after they were committed and that therefore the trial was invalid as a form of “victors’ justice”.[2] But the legacy of the Nuremberg Trails would set precedence on how future international justice courts would run in the future and the criminals of such crimes against humanity would be shown to the world.


Justice after genocide is still a shaky issue to tackle and will not likely have a solution that will coincide with the victims of genocide and the international institutions such as the ICTY. Criminal justice processes are important, but their principal objective is to conduct fair trials of often extremely complex factual situations and command structures. Victims of the genocide may not agree to this structure because it looks more like a show of justice as the court publicizes the judicial process of these war criminals.
Yet this show of justice is important because moral justice can’t be lowered to savagery, as Radovan Karadžić sought to be an appropriate means of solving the issue in the Balkans. International justice must continue to show its moral and just cause, in an appropriate and civil way, that justice will come to those who commit these atrocities and show off them to the world as the “bad guy” against humanity. From my experience at ICTY, the bone chilling experience of seeing evil in its human form, in a personal way, will forever be engrained in my mind.

[1] ICTY. (2011). Case Information Sheet: Radovan Karadzic

[2] Zolo, D. (2009). Victor’ Justice: From Nuremberg to Baghdad.

[1] International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. (2013, April 13). History of the ICTY. Retrieved from ICTY: http://www.icty.org/sid/95

[2] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. (2011). The Tribunal’s Accomplishments in Justice and Law.

[3] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. (2011). The Tribunal’s Accomplishments in Justice and Law.