EU hails arrest of Serbian war criminal Karadzic

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EU leaders hailed the arrest by Serbian authorities on 21 July of Radovan Karadzic as a key step in the Balkan nation’s accession to the Union. Karadzic is one of the most wanted war criminals of the past 13 years and stands accused of the worst war crimes committed in Europe since World War II.

The arrest – the second in just 40 days – highlights the will of the new pro-European leadership in Serbia to break with previous attitudes considered ambiguous at the very least by the international community. On 12 June, war criminal Stojan Zupljanin was apprehended (EURACTIV 13/06/08). Today, of the 46 indictees of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) from Serbia, only two remain at large – Ratko Mladic, the main perpetrator of the massacre at Srebrenica, and Goran Jelisic, accused of crimes against Croats in the city of Vukovar. 

Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said Karadzic’s capture was a “milestone” and very important for Serbia’s efforts to join the European Union. 

“This […] proves the determination of the new government to achieve full cooperation with the tribunal,” said Rehn. He added that he would discuss the next steps in ties with Belgrade with EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels today (22 July), as well as with Serbia’s visiting foreign minister. 

The arrest of Karadzic took place one day ahead of the visit to Belgrade of Serge Brammertz, the ICTY prosecutor. 

“I would like to congratulate the Serbian authorities, especially the National Security Council, Serbia’s Action Team in charge of tracking fugitives and the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor, on achieving this milestone in cooperation with the ICTY,” Brammertz said. 

The arrest should facilitate a rapprochement between the EU and Serbia, with whom the bloc signed a pre-membership pact – the so-called Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) – just before the country’s early elections in May. But the Netherlands has thus far made the SAA ratification conditional on the apprehension of all war crime indictees. 

Serbs are split over the arrest of Karadzic, who is seen as a hero by Serbian nationalists. A group of them demonstrated in Belgrade and accused the Serbian government of treason. But in Sarajevo hundreds took to the streets and expressed their joy over the capture of the man whom they consider responsible for years of suffering and the deaths of relatives and friends. 

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso welcomed the news of the arrest of Radovan Karadzic. "This is a very positive development that will contribute to bringing justice and lasting reconciliation in the Western Balkans. It proves the determination of the new Serbian government to achieve full cooperation with the ICTY. It is also very important for Serbia's European aspirations," Barroso said. 

EU Foreign policy chief Javier Solana called Karadzic's arrest "excellent news". "The place where Radovan Karadzic belongs is in front of the tribunal in The Hague, having a fair trial and responding to the crimes of which he is accused. It shows the commitment of the new Serbian government to cooperate with international organisations," Solana added. 

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon commended the Serbian authorities. "This is a historic moment for the victims, who have waited thirteen years for Mr. Karadzic to be brought to justice," Ban said.

"This is an historic event," said Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy who brokered the agreements in Dayton, Ohio, to end the war in Bosnia in 1995. "Of the three most evil men of the Balkans, Milosevic, Karadzic and Mladic, I thought Karadzic was the worst. The reason was that Karadzic was a real racist believer. Karadzic really enjoyed ordering the killing of Muslims, whereas Milosevic was an opportunist," Holbrooke said. 

Lawrence Eagleburger, US Secretary of State during the Yugoslav wars, said of Karadzic: "He has blood on his hands [...] I'm sure there were a number of people in the (Serbian) military and the police who almost certainly knew more or less where he was and could have picked him up." 

Bosnian Muslim leader Haris Silajdzic stated: "This is at least some satisfaction for the families of victims. Justice cannot be fully met without Karadzic's and Mladic's arrest. But the fact remains that Milosevic is dead, Karadzic is arrested but their project of ethnic cleansing unfortunately still lives on in Bosnia-Herzegovina." 

Aleksandar Vucic from the Serbian Radical party said: "Karadzic is a Serbian hero. There will be a strong backlash." 

Before his political career, Radovan Karadzic was a medical doctor who worked as a psychiatrist in Sarajevo, today the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. When Bosnia declared its independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1992, Radovan Karadzic announced the formation of the breakaway Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Hercegovina, eventually seizing 70 per cent of Bosnia with the aim of uniting it with Serbia. 

In July 1995 he and Serb general Ratko Mladic, who is still on the run, were indicted for genocide over war crimes including the shelling of civilian targets in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, where 10,000 were killed, and the creation of brutal prison camps in which an estimated 20,000 women were raped and other prisoners were tortured and starved. 

Four months later, they were also indicted for orchestrating the massacre of about 8,000 Muslim men and boys after the capture of the UN's supposed "safe area" of Srebrenica. The arrest of the high-profile war criminals later became a precondition for opening the doors towards Serbia's EU accession. 

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