The Radovan Karadzic verdict will change nothing

In Bosnia, we are as far away from reconciliation as we were before the Radovan Karadzic trial.

Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic [AP]
Bosnian Serb wartime leader, Radovan Karadzic [AP]

On March 24, the international tribunal in The Hague delivered the Radovan Karadzic verdict – more than 20 years after he was indicted and eight years after he was finally arrested. By this judgment, like most of those delivered by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) judges, nationalistic ideologies were described as the reason behind the killings, tortures, forced detentions, mass rapes, ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Unfortunately, people from the Balkans, but also in other parts of the world, did not grasp the message hidden behind the legal jargon. Over the years, international tribunals have never put enough effort to make their decisions clearer to average people; and this is often abused by politicians who interpret those decisions however they like.

Radovan Karadzic found guilty of genocide

The Radovan Karadzic judgment is a document that can end the war that is still raging in our heads. For many people in the Balkans, even for children born after 1995, the war is still going on.

Facing the facts

In order to stop this war, we must make known the facts established about what happened by the tribunal, as well as who is responsible. Afterwards, people have to find a way to talk about those facts, to face them, and to try, at least, to overcome the consequences.

That is why this judgment is very important for the Balkans. It established the facts about the entire war in Bosnia, from its preparatory phase to the end, and touches upon all the crimes committed by Karadzic’s followers.

ALSO READ: Does Europe judge Radovan Karadzic or itself?

The judgment concludes that the crimes, including mass killings, expulsions, torture, rape, terror, were organised, and planned by the nationalists who were in power at the time.

In this 1996 file photo, International War Crimes Tribunal investigators clear away soil and debris from dozens of Srebrenica victims buried in a mass grave in Bosnia-Herzegovina [AP]
In this 1996 file photo, International War Crimes Tribunal investigators clear away soil and debris from dozens of Srebrenica victims buried in a mass grave in Bosnia-Herzegovina [AP]

However, the judgment is spelled out over 2,500 pages, and only a limited number of people will actually read it and understand it.

Additionally, the judgment is available only in English. In this case, as in other ICTY cases, it will take probably years for it to be translated into local languages. For people in the Balkans, it means that our lives will still depend on Karadzic.

Let us take, for example, one mother from Srebrenica: Karadzic was found guilty of ordering and planning the murder of her child. He is also guilty of ordering the ethnic cleansing of the region she used to live in until 1995.

The same goes for any Serb soldier who was part of the Bosnian Serb Army from 1992 to 1995, and who followed orders and participated in “torturing” people in Sarajevo. They also need facts to confront the past and decide if what they did was wrong.

The ICTY was, and is, an institution distant from the region – not only geographically, but in every possible way.


The official language used by the institution is not one of the regional languages; personnel by large do not come from the region; the law they operate under has nothing to do with regional laws; when and if judges or prosecutors are coming to the region, they often act as aliens towards locals, being distant and reserved in their contacts.

Tool of political manipulation

All this makes its work and decisions hard to grasp and comprehend for people whose lives are deeply affected by it. And instead of making these judgments a way towards facing the past, they remain a tool of political manipulation by the regional political elite.

ALSO READ: Bosnia still digging up its tortured past

They will use the lack of translation and distance of the court for their own purposes. They will praise the court when it makes decisions they like and dismiss it when it is something they do not like. They will accept or reject decisions in accordance with their political goals.

Demonstrators gather outside the ICTY before the trial of Radovan Karadzic, in The Hague, Netherlands [AP]
Demonstrators gather outside the ICTY before the trial of Radovan Karadzic, in The Hague, Netherlands [AP]

And this is one of the reasons why most of the people in the Balkans, besides media frenzy, felt exhausted after this verdict.

Most of the people living in the region will never know what is written in the verdict, as in all other judgments made by the tribunal. Their hopes to end the war are trapped in the walls of international bureaucracy while they are being once again exposed to political manipulation.

It will hardly affect their lives, their reality or change anything in their perception of war events.

After 23 years of work, the international tribunal in The Hague did not succeed in having a real impact on the people of the region. We did not hear loudly and clearly the judgment against nationalism, even though the judges did issue many.

Not only that, the important messages were not transferred even internationally, and it looks like nobody learned the anti-war lesson that is buried inside the decision. Thousands of refugees that are walking towards Europe are reminding us about that.

In Bosnia, now we are as far away from the reconciliation as we were before the Karadzic trial. We still have the same ideas pervading local politics and, in some cases, either the same politicians that were there during the war or people who were close to them.

We do not have peace, but peace accords between warring sides. And the international community is ignorant, trapped in their faraway, well-secured buildings, and huge bureaucracy apparatus. We can only hope that the new generation will overcome all that and be able to find a way to stop the war. We can only hope they will be brave enough to do that soon.

Nidzara Ahmetasevic is an independent scholar and journalist from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and she was a fellow with the Alliance for Historical Dialogue and Accountability at Columbia University.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.