International Judicial Monitor
Published by the International Judicial Academy, Washington, D.C., with assistance from the
American Society of International Law

Spring 2016 Issue

Global Judicial PERSPECTIVe


The Trial of Radovan Kradzic

Richard J. Goldstone

By: Richard A. Goldstone, Former Justice, Constitutional Court of South Africa, First Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, and Regular Columnist, International Judicial Monitor Monitor

On March 25, 2016 a trial chamber of the United National Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) convicted Radovan Karadzic on 10 of the 11 counts on which he was indicted. The convictions included genocide, murder, persecution, taking hostages and a host of other crimes against humanity. He was sentenced to imprisonment for 40 years. Not surprisingly he has lodged an appeal.

Karadzic was the President of the Bosnian Serb enclave of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosnia). He and his army chief, Ratko Mladic, were initially supported and weaponized by the Serbian military under the leadership of Slobodan Milosevic. Mladic is currently also on trial in the ICTY. They were jointly responsible for the ethnic cleansing of large numbers of Muslims who lived in Bosnia.

In July 1995, I issued the first of two indictments against Karadzic and Mladic for war crimes committed during the war that since 1991 had been raging in Bosnia. Then, in November 1995, I issued a second indictment against Karadzic and Mladic charging them with genocide for the perpetration in July 1995 of the massacre of almost 8000 Bosnian men and boys outside the town of Srebrenica. Warrants for their arrest were issued by the ICTY judges.

It is not disputed that the UN forces then operating in Bosnia were able to arrest both Karadzic and Mladic. That they did not do so can be ascribed to the refusal of the military of the US, the UK and France to become involved in what they referred to as “mission creep”.  Their stance was that the arrest of alleged criminals was not the work of the military but rather of the police. They also feared that the arrest of these two men who were regarded as heroes in their own community would have courted reprisals and generally additional dangers for their troops. The two were allowed to roam unhindered in plain sight of both their victims and the UN soldiers sent to maintain peace in the region.

Soon after the end of hostilities in Bosnia at the end of 1995, Karadzic and Mladic went into hiding. It was only in 2008 that Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade and in 2011 that Mladic was arrested in a village in Serbia. The Karadzic trial began in October 2009. Closing arguments were concluded in October 2014. The trial occupied 497 court days. There were 337 prosecution witnesses and 248 defence witnesses. The record is immense and it is likely to take another two years before the appeal proceedings are completed.

What are some of the lessons to be learned from this trial? The first is the failure by the leading Western powers to take seriously and act upon the arrest warrants that were issued by an international court established by the Security Council under powers that made the orders of the Tribunal binding on all member states. The United States was principally responsible for establishing the Tribunal. It is a matter of regret and especially for the hundreds of thousands of Karadzic’s victims that the political will to order his arrest was lacking. The Security Council itself took no steps to encourage his apprehension. That same absence of political will on the part of the Security Council is evident with regard to the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against President Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan. Again, that warrant on charges, including genocide, was issued in consequence of a referral to the ICC by the Council. The unfortunate lesson for the ICC is that when it acts on referrals by the Security Council it will not necessarily


have the backing of the Council for orders made pursuant to such a referral. To add insult to injury, on the instance of the United States, the costs occasioned by such referral are not at all for the account of the United Nations but for that of the ICC itself. So lesson one is that the principal political actors who use international criminal justice too frequently lack the political will to follow through on their initial actions. In that regard they are unmindful of the victims and their justifiable claims for justice.

The second lesson from the Karadzic trial is the absence of sufficient empathy for victims displayed by the judges. Admittedly, a sentence of 40 years for a man of 70 is tantamount to a life sentence. However, had the judges imposed a life sentence as such that would have sent an important message to the victims many of whom have found the 40 year sentence to be too lenient and especially for the crime of genocide. The appeals chamber might well wish to reconsider the adequacy of the sentence.

The third lesson is the unacceptable delay in bringing justice to the victims. The crimes for which Karadzic was convicted were committed almost two-and-a-half decades ago. Many of the victims have died in the interim and others have waited for justice for too long. Even taking into account that Karadzic avoided capture for 13 years, it should not have taken over six years from the date of his first appearance in The Hague for the trial to be completed. Such delays have been all too common in international criminal courts.

The fourth lesson is that delayed justice is preferable to a denial of justice. The sentences of Karadzic must send salutary messages to other would-be war criminals that they might well end up being tried by domestic or international courts, President Al-Bashir should know that either because of a  change of government in his own country or the political will of leaders of nations he might visit, he too might well end up being tried and, if found guilty, appropriately punished. It grieves me that my own government failed to arrest him when he visited South Africa in June 2015. Two South African courts have thus far found that this failure constituted unlawful conduct on the part of the government.

The fifth and final lesson that I draw from the Karadzic trial is that there are invariably unexpected consequences from setting international justice mechanisms in motion. The first indictment of Karadzic made the Dayton meeting in November 1995 possible. It would not have been convened if Karadzic had been free to participate in the negotiations. The meeting was held some two months after the Srebrenica massacre. The Bosnian leaders would not have attended a meeting with Karadzic present. The indictment prevented him from attending at Dayton - he would have been arrested by the United States and sent to The Hague for trial. That had not been the expectation of the Secretary-General of the United Nations who, in July 1995, was unhappy that I had issued the indictment before the ending of hostilities in Bosnia. Likewise, the then Liberian Head of State, Charles Taylor, little anticipated that he would end up in a British prison for 50 years for being held complicit in the commission of war crimes in neighboring Sierra Leone.

With all the criticism of the ICC and especially from the African Union and from some African governments, if there was no ICC in existence today I have no doubt that the majority of the members of the global community would be clamoring for one and I include African governments. Few who listened to the litany of crimes read out by the judges in The Hague for which they held Karadzic liable could have  doubted that the world was that much better for the efforts of the ICTY than it would have been without them. The challenge is not to question the mechanisms of international justice but to find ways of improving them.

ASIl & International Judicial AcademyInternational Judicial Monitor
© 2016 – The International Judicial Academy
with assistance from the American Society of International Law.

Editor: James G. Apple.
IJM welcomes comments, suggestions, and submissions.
Please contact the IJM editor at