Radovan Karadzic is expected to be extradited within days to The Hague, where he will eventually stand trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. There he will be reunited with old friends and foes who also face prosecution for the parts they allegedly played in the Bosnian war.
Karadzic will be housed in the United Nations detention unit, a separate wing of Scheveningen maximum security prison, where his former mentor, the Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, spent the last five years of his life.
The tribunal, established by the UN Security Council in May 1993, was the first international body for prosecuting war crimes to be set up since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials after the Second World War. It cannot try suspects in absentia, nor impose the death penalty – its maximum available sentence is life imprisonment.
In a statement yesterday, the tribunal said: "Aware of the serious charges brought against him by the prosecution, the tribunal is mindful that Karadzic enjoys the presumption of innocence and is committed to do all within its competences to ensure a fair and public trial in accordance with the highest standards of international law.
"This arrest may be considered another milestone in the development of international law."
Similar tribunals were set up to prosecute war criminals from Rwanda and Sierra Leone. But allegations of war crimes made since July 2002 are now heard by the permanent International Criminal Court, also in The Hague. It has already assumed jurisdiction for the arrest and prosecution of suspects connected with atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Darfur.
America has still not signed the Rome treaty, which established the ICC's authority, because the UN will not agree to grant a blanket immunity to US soldiers taking part in peace-keeping missions.