International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Reactions to Karadzic’s Defense

As we all know, Radovan Karadzic began his defense today at the ICTY.  Facing charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, he—in what I see as a mixture of desperation, delusion, and denial—stated that he should be rewarded for his efforts in doing everything possible to avoid the war and reduce human suffering.  In the public gallery, survivors of the war cried out that he was lying.

Al-Jazeera had a feature today of Bosnian citizens on the streets of Sarajevo and Banja Luka reacting to Karadzic’s defense.  I found the breadth of reactions interesting; they ranged from confidence that he would be held responsible to fear that he would not live to his conviction (probably resulting from the disappointing conclusion of Milosevic’s trial) and the belief that no sentence, however large, could adequately compensate for the pain and suffering of the victims. However, one comment stood out to me in particular.  A lawyer from Banja Luka said, “I’m not following that case.  This process is a political thing.  I’m not that well informed.”  An important part of justice is truth and widespread knowledge of both past and present events, and I find it troubling that this man claims that he is not following “that case,” dismissing it as “political.”   Justice is a communal process, and reconciliation can happen at different levels, but it will be a long and difficult road to full reconciliation if some citizens don’t make the effort to become informed.  Additionally, I wonder what the survivors present at the trial today would have to say in response to the statement that the trial is merely a “political thing?”


5 responses to “Reactions to Karadzic’s Defense

  1. brandon459 October 17, 2012 at 11:27 am

    This post brings up a lot of concepts that have been previously discussed in prior classes. Yes it does take a very long time to bring proper justice and start reconciliation. Yes, it a widespread knowledge of the truth, past and present, must be known for justice and peace to be recognized. However, at the same time, I feel this says a lot about the criticisms bestowed on the ICTY. The ICTY initially did not have enough of an impact to become headline worthy. They arrested a lot of mid-tier criminals but none of the “big fish”. Even when they did get the biggest guy in Milosevic, it took nearly 7 or 8 years to complete the process. It took so long, that he actually died while on trial.

    Presently, Karadzic and Miladic still haven’t been officially put away from crimes they did nearly 20 years ago. My point being, this is an entirely different generation that relates to these men than before. It is merely a “political thing” to them now because they didn’t endure the same terror. I liken, albeit loosely, to present-day African-American and the civil rights movement. If the time period is too long, it sort of loses its relevance. This could be why the arrests of these men are credited by heavy political pressure, and not necessarily the ICTY itself. This is certainly an interesting quandary.

  2. Alana Tiemessen October 17, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    Great comments here. I raises interesting theoretical and empirical questions as well about what constitutes “political” justice. Oftentimes some will make the accusations that trial is “political” in order to undermine its credibility and legitimacy. But what does this mean? That the court is not impartial? That it is controlled by political actors? That the trial has political effects? It’s worth unpacking what this accusation of “political” means and question whether any kind of justice can truly be apolitical.

  3. saskiadej October 18, 2012 at 9:04 am

    These posts bring up very interesting ideas. I agree that it is troubling that some people are dismissing the cases because they are “political,” and it is possible that newer generations feel further removed from these cases. However, I don’t find the claim that these trials are “political” to be surprising. Conditionality was key in bringing many individuals indicted by the tribunal into custody. The European Union blocked Serbia from EU membership until it arrested Karadzic, Mladic, and all of the other fugitives indicted by the tribunal ( In 2005, the EU put similar pressure on Croatia to hand over Gotovina. As Peskin writes, under the leadership of prime minister Ivo Sanader, Croatia’s cooperation with the ICTY improved significantly, in part because Sanader was able to define “the imminent handovers as serving Croatia’s national interest” (221) and change the public debate by articulating that failing to facilitate the handovers could jeopardize the country’s EU bid. For many citizens in both Serbia and Croatia, the policy of conditionality likely made the ICTY and ICC trials seem to be much more of a “political thing”; the courts and trials seemed to be influenced or controlled by political actors such as the EU. As the ICTY and the ICC both lack their own enforcement capabilities, such as police forces, these courts will have to continue to rely on such policies in order to arrest suspects.

    • mhdeck October 20, 2012 at 9:50 am

      These post highlight a key issue with the powers of the ICTY, the tribunal does not have enforcement capabilities, and thus, the enforcement powers fall to the states. The tribunals must rely on political factors to facilitate international justice in some way. However, is that the type of justice the tribunals are working towards? A justice that must rely on the powers of states and political elites? Peskin would argue no. That states should not have more power than the tribunal to facilitate justice. Examples of the ITCR battles with the Rwandan government exemplify how states can limit the fairness and effectiveness of a trial. If we understand the power of states have in interfering with a trial what is the greater role of the international community to stop the interference? Is the international community responsible in that way?
      If we understand the international politics of the tribunal and the hurdles it must overcome how do we understand what is going on on the grassroots level? The post about reconciliation being a communal process that requires informed citizens was very interesting because it forces us to understand the role of international justice in creating change on the ground. If citizens believe the tribunal to be a show of politics than it does not create reconciliation and perhaps will deepen the hurt and anger. Does this mean that hybrids of international tribunals and truth commissions must be used? So the citizens that were directly impacted have a space to interact with justice and have their voices heard. Is it perhaps that tribunals are stage for the international community to prosecute war crimes and planned genocide, and “true” or “real” justice for victims happens in the community where their voices can be heard.

  4. alexj528 October 19, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    The charge that international criminal trials are “political” is one that is difficult to logically interpret. While it is easy to imagine a political opponent launching accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity to discredit their rival, the probability of such claims being taken seriously by international tribunals without evidence, given their cautious nature, is almost untenable. A second interpretation of the claim that such tribunals are politically motivated is to assume that the accusation is being levied against the individuals conducting the trial. This interpretation is even less defensible, as members of the court would either need to benefit directly from the indictment of an accused war criminal, such as through a bribe, but this is extremely unlikely given the excessively long duration of most court proceedings. The second possibility is that prosecutors benefit indirectly by aiding their country, but again, this makes little sense. Countries supporting the trials contribute enormous sums of money, and rarely see any personal return. Countries which suffer from internal atrocities and the like are rarely major players in the international scene, and as such, any country would be ill-advised to spend millions to remove dictators from power in such countries with the intent of gaining personal advantage. A charge that international justice trials are “political” does not conform to reality most often, given that the only political actors who stand to gain from the conviction of the accused are rivals, who would be hard-pressed to present reasonable evidence of war crimes that never happened.

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