Marko Prelec: This trial won't make anything better – but it must go ahead

Share
Related Topics

Radovan Karadzic’s long and strange career – from Sarajevo psychiatrist to nationalist leader to breakaway president, honoured guest at international peace talks from Geneva to New York to the HMS Invincible, anchored in the Adriatic sea; from the International Criminal Tribunal’s first high-profile indictee, already in the summer of 1995, to fugitive from justice, to bushy-bearded new-age healer in the Belgrade suburbs – takes its last turn today as the ICTY prosecutor calls his first witnesses against him. This day has been long in coming.

There is no doubt Mr Karadzic bears – together with the still-missing general Ratko Mladic – heaviest responsibility for the murder of tens of thousands, and the terrorising and expulsion of over a million Bosniak and Croat civilians in Bosnia’s war.

But the trial won’t tell us much we don’t already know, and it will make little difference in the still-tense western Balkans. In many previous trials the ICTY has exhaustively documented Bosnian Serb crimes – and Mr Karadzic's role in them. Almost all of the prosecution’s early witnesses have testified before, some many times. The prosecutor has been compiling evidence against Mr Karadzic for fifteen years; when I started working at the Tribunal in the spring of 1999 I found detailed studies of the Bosnian Serb leadership and its criminal policies and works, already years old. Later trials added a mountain of corroboration and detail. Much of this is available on the Tribunal’s website to anyone interested and patient enough to read it. Mr Karadzic’s story is already all there in public record.

So what is the value of what promises to be a long and expensive trial? Hague justice doesn’t come cheap –the Tribunal costs about one hundred million Euros each year. Some believe Mr Karadzic’s trial will bring catharsis and healing to the Balkans and help establish a common historical narrative.

That battle was lost long ago. The Tribunal may not appreciate how low its stock has fallen in the Balkans. Last summer, after the Karadzic judges suggested shortening the trial – down to a brief 30 months – by leaving out repetitive evidence, one of Bosnia’s most cosmopolitan weeklies, BH Dani, responded with a cover consisting of a black field and the word “Hague” with a swastika replacing the H, and angry articles condemning the international community’s allegedly pro-Serb bias. There’s little evidence the Tribunal has shifted Balkan opinions much. Each community overwhelmingly favours its own, and denial remains widespread.

There’s no meaningful punishment for a man who ordered the murder of eight thousand men and boys in Srebrenica – among many other crimes. What Mr Karadzic did is far beyond the reach of criminal justice. He must be tried not because it will achieve some positive aim, but because there is no other way to establish his guilt fairly. This is necessary, and it’s the Tribunal’s biggest contribution to international peace. Without it Mr Karadzic, and the whole sorry lot of war criminals on all sides, wouldn’t be marginalised and pathetic fugitives or jailbirds, they’d still be in charge of the Balkans. His trial breaks no new ground – it’s a vindication and a summing-up of what the Tribunal has already achieved: letting the Balkans develop in peace.

The author is International Crisis Group's Balkans project director in Prishtina

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture