Speaker’s Corner: Radovan Karadžić verdict: was justice granted? by Rameez Kaleem

By Myriam Francois|March 30, 2016|Speaker's Corner|0 comments

Radovan Karadžić verdict: was justice granted?

by Rameez Kaleem


Four years ago, I embarked on a journey to Bosnia. The purpose of the trip was to raise awareness about the forgotten genocide in Srebrenica as well as to show support to the families who were still rebuilding their lives almost 17 years post conflict. I spent a month living with a local Bosnian family in a rural village in the Republic of Srpska, near Srebrenica.

Initially, I questioned whether it was necessary or appropriate for me to be there. It was coming up to two decades since the war ended. Did they really want strangers to remind them of their horrific past? Were we counter-productive to their efforts of laying the past to rest? But soon these doubts were allayed.  My new Bosnian friends were grateful that a group of Muslims from the UK had come to hear their stories and walk in solidarity with them for the 110km ‘Peace March’ commemorating the journey that 15,000 Bosnian refugees had taken to flee the violence and killing in Srebrenica.


For me, the most poignant moment came when I joined 30,000 people at the Potocari memorial on the 17th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. Every year the International Commission for Missing People identify remains of bodies from mass graves which are buried in an annual ceremony. On this particular day 520 newly identified victims were buried.  I watched wives stroking the coffins of their husbands, mothers of their lost sons, daughters and mothers finally saying goodbye to their loves ones. It was the most humbling experience of my life. It was also when the sheer scale of the atrocities hit home. It made me realise that the destructive legacy of the war was not over and for many families the grief would not end any time soon. Whilst the mothers of Srebrenica were not looking for retribution, seeing those responsible receive appropriate punishment was, and is, rightly important to them. They want justice.

Radovan Karadžić, former president of the Republic of Srpska, is widely considered the mastermind behind the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and was captured in 2008 after a 13-year manhunt. Last week, on Thursday 24th March 2016, the UN war crimes judges found Karadžić guilty of genocide in relation to the massacre in Srebrenica, where more than 7,000 Bosnian men and boys were killed. He was sentenced to 40 years in jail. The court also found him guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes including the torture, rape and killing in detention of thousands, perpetrated with the intent to systematically remove the Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat populations in territories claimed by Bosnian Serbs. Although the Tribunal did not find Karadžić guilty of genocide in seven other municipalities, the Court framed the genocide in Srebrenica as part of a much wider plan of ethnic cleansing, persecution and murder which started many years earlier.

There is no doubt that many families of victims and survivors of the war in Bosnia will be left dissatisfied with this verdict. There is a strong feeling amongst the Bosnians that during the war they were let down by the UN and, in particular, the Dutch forces. An acquittal of one count of genocide in seven municipalities where the families of the victims and survivors have campaigned tirelessly for recognition of these crimes will be seen as yet another betrayal by the international community. Many were also surprised and disappointed that a charge of genocide and crimes against humanity did not, at least, result in a life sentence.


What this trial and verdict did demonstrate was how high the test for genocidal intent is set by the international court. Although the court found that ethnic persecution and ethnic cleansing took place in these municipalities, and that murder and extermination occurred, this was still not deemed sufficient to establish genocidal intent. Karadžić’s verdict is not so much a question of setting a legal precedent (as other lower-ranking perpetrators have been convicted) but a symbolic victory showing that the campaign of ethnic cleansing and genocide really did come from the very top.

Radovan Karadžić’s guilty verdict was a major step towards justice for the victims of Srebrenica and I truly hope that it provides thousands of Bosnian families with comfort. I know that the Bosnians do not want to forget their past, painful though it may be, and through initiatives like Remembering Srebrenica we can all use the lessons from their past to inform our futures. Despite all they have been through, the Bosnians want to see unity usurp hatred in all communities. This is a testament to their courage and strength.


Rameez Kaleem is the Regional Chair for London & The South East at Remembering Srebrenica (www.srebrenica.org.uk), a British charitable initiative that aims to strengthen communities in the UK by challenging hatred and intolerance. He is also the Chair of the City Circle, a UK registered charity, which runs a number of community projects in London. In his day job, he runs an HR consulting business.

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About Myriam Francois

This is the official blog for the SOAS-CIS. It aims to encourage scholars to debate and engage with the wider public on the basis of their research and will foster discussions about mainly UK and also European Integration discourse as relates to Islam and British Muslims. We tweet @SoasCis

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