Radovan Karadzic


The southern Slavic states of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Macedonia begin to merge into a single nation following the First World War. But the legacy of a 400-year occupation by the Islamic Ottoman Empire and traditional tension between Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians frustrate attempts for unity. Following the Second World War, Yugoslav communists led by Marshal Josip Broz Tito take control of the government, declaring the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia on 29 November 1945.

The veneer of Yugoslav stability begins to crumble when Tito dies on 4 May 1980. The prosperous northern states of Croatia and Slovenia start to agitate for autonomy. Macedonia and the Muslim majorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Serbian province of Kosovo repeat the call. Serbia has political power under the federation and does not want change. The poorer southern state of Montenegro supports the centralised federation and backs Serbia. More background.

Mini biography

Born on 19 June 1945 in Petnijca, a village near Savnik in the mountains of Montenegro. His father is a nationalist Chetnik who fights the Germans and the Yugoslav communists during the Second World War and is jailed by the communists at the war's end. Much of Karadzic's childhood is spent under the sole care of his mother.

Karadzic moves to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, in 1960. He studies medicine at the University of Sarajevo, graduating as a physician and psychiatrist. Karadzic is also an aspiring poet. He publishes poetry, gives readings and writes books for children.

Karadzic marries Ljiljana Zelen, a psychoanalyst and the daughter of an established and wealthy Serb family. The couple have a daughter, Sonja, and a son, Aleksandar Sasa.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Karadzic works at various medical posts, including the psychiatric clinic in Kosevo hospital in Sarajevo, the Zagreb Centre for Mental Health in Croatia, the Health Centre Vozdovac in Belgrade, and as psychiatrist to a soccer team in Sarajevo. It is also reported that he travels to the United States to spend a year in medical training at Columbia University in New York.

In September 1985 Karadzic charged with embezzlement of public property and fraud. The charges relate to the construction of Karadzic's house in Pale, about 10 km southeast of Sarajevo, and his connections with the building industry. Karadzic is sentenced to three years imprisonment but never serves time.

1974 - Changes to the Yugoslav constitution loosen the grip of the federal government on the constituent republics, which become de facto sovereign states. Serb minorities living in Bosnia-Herzegovina claim they have been denied national rights, left unprotected and singled out for unfair treatment.

1988 - The Yugoslav Cabinet is unable to cope with a worsening economy and the rising push for autonomy from the republics and their provinces. The entire Cabinet resigns in October. In January 1989 the ruling League of Communists of Yugoslavia votes to end its political monopoly, allowing multiparty elections across the federation.

1990 - Karadzic becomes involved in politics in Bosnia-Herzegovina. He helps found and becomes leader of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDP). The party is anticommunist and heavily influenced by the Christian Orthodox Church. It is supported by Slobodan Milosevic, the nationalist president of Serbia.

Multiparty elections held in Bosnia-Herzegovina in December return a tripartite coalition made up of the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (PDA - 86 seats), the SDP (72 seats) and the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia-Herzegovina (44 seats). PDA leader Alija Izetbegovic heads a joint presidency.

1991 - Slovenia and Croatia unilaterally declare their independence from Yugoslavia in June. The federal government orders the Serb-dominated army to intervene. A 10-day war in Slovenia ends with a Serb defeat. Up to 100 die and hundreds are injured. The war in Croatia lasts seven months, ending in January 1992 with a cease-fire. About 20,000 die and hundreds of thousands are driven from their homes. Macedonia declares its independence in September 1991.

Meanwhile, Bosnia-Herzegovina also begins to move towards independence from Yugoslavia. Karadzic rejects the proposal. He begins boycotting meetings of the presidency then withdraws the SDP from the coalition. At a closed referendum among Bosnian-Serbs held at the start of the following year, most vote to remain part of Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav federation is dominated by Serbia, and Bosnian-Serbs want to maintain the connection to their ethnic allies. The differing views on independence fuel growing tensions between Serb and non-Serb Bosnians. Violence between the two groups begins to break out.

In October a wiretap records Karadzic discussing the fate of Sarajevo. "They have to know that there are 20,000 armed Serbs around Sarajevo ... it will be a black cauldron where 300,000 Muslims will die," he says. "They will disappear. That people will disappear from the face of the earth."

Karadzic is also recorded as saying, "I think it is clear to the army and clear to everyone. It will be a real bloodbath."

"Europe will be told to go f--k itself and not to come back until the job is finished."

"No Muslim foundations shall ever be laid in Serb areas and Serbian villages. All foundations that are laid will be blown up. You must not sell land to Muslims. ... This is a fight to the finish. It is a battle for living space."

1992 - A referendum on whether Bosnia-Herzegovina should secede from the federation is held from 29 February to 1 March. The Muslim and Croatian majority carry the vote. The country is proclaimed an independent republic on 3 March and recognised as such by the European Community (EC - now European Union), the United States and the United Nations (UN).

The Bosnian-Serb minority, who boycotted the referendum, take up arms and rebel. The level of violence quickly escalates to a full-scale ethnic war. On one side are the Bosnian-Serbs, supported by Serbia. On the other are the Bosnian-Muslims and Bosnian-Croats.

On 4 April Bosnian President Izetbegovic announces a full mobilisation to quell the rebellion. Karadzic opposes the move.

On 4-5 April thousands of Sarajevans of all ethnic backgrounds take to the streets to march for peace. When they descend on the SDP offices in the capital, Bosnian-Serb snipers open fire on the crowd, killing six people.

Bosnian-Serb militias now lay siege to Sarajevo. Their artillery, positioned in the surrounding hills, bomb the city's streets and marketplaces, while their snipers target the unlucky and unwary.

On 6 April Karadzic proclaims the independent Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, renamed Republika Srpska in May. Karadzic is president and supreme commander of the Bosnian-Serb armed forces. The capital is located at Pale.

Republika Srpska encompasses about half the landmass of Bosnia-Herzegovina, horseshoeing around the remaining territory and bordering both Serbia and Croatia. It is not recognised by the UN.

Ratko Mladic takes command of the 80,000 Yugoslav Army troops stationed in the republic, a force which becomes in effect the Bosnian-Serb Army.

With the backing of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, the Bosnian-Serb militias and Mladic's army units begin to occupy territory across Bosnia. After six weeks of fighting they control two-thirds of the state. The conflict soon spills into Croatia. The cease-fire there breaks down and fighting resumes.

The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia lasts for three years, causing devastation in those countries and deprivation in Serbia, which is subjected to trade sanctions applied by the UN.

As the war escalates, the Bosnian-Serb forces attempt to expel Bosnia's Muslim and Croat population from the Serb-held territories in an orchestrated program of "ethnic cleansing".

Muslims and Croats are either forced into exile as refugees, held as hostages for use in prisoner exchanges, or placed in concentration camps. Many are summarily executed. An estimated 20,000 Muslim women and girls are thrown into rape camps. Bosnian-Muslim and Bosnian-Croat political leaders are arrested, imprisoned and in many cases murdered. In the opening months of the war up to 100,000 or more people are killed. Hundreds of thousands are dispossessed.

Hostilities are further complicated in July when a group of Bosnian-Croats form a breakaway Croat state inside Bosnia, the Republic of Herceg-Bosna. Croatian-Serbs from the self-declared Republic of Serbian Krajina in neighbouring Croatia also enter the fray, forming an alliance with the Bosnian-Serbs.

1994 - In March Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia reach an agreement to form a joint federation and end their hostilities. The Croatian and Bosnian-Muslim forces join in opposition to the Serbs, launching an offensive in April and May.

1995 - The Serb militias are brought to a standstill in Bosnia. To the west, they are overwhelmed by the Croatian Army and driven, along with almost the entire Serbian-Croat population, out of Croatia.

In May NATO launches air strikes against Serb targets after the Serb forces refuse to comply with a UN ultimatum to remove all heavy weapons from a 12-mile exclusion zone around Sarajevo. Joint Croatian-Bosnian operations and further air strikes in May, August and September eject Serbian forces from large areas of western Bosnia.

Meanwhile, Karadzic issues a directive ordering the Bosnian-Serb Drina Corps to "create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival or life for the inhabitants of Srebrenica". Karadzic visits the Drina Corps Command at the end of June.

Bosnian-Serb forces led by Mladic take the UN "safe areas" of Srebrenica and Zepa in July. Mladic tells a television crew, "Finally ... the time has come to take revenge on the Turks in this region."

Approximately 25,000 Bosnian-Muslims who had sought safety at Srebrenica are expelled. About 8,000 men and boys are executed, allegedly on Mladic's order. The atrocity outrages the international community and intensifies the counter-offensive against the Bosnian-Serbs.

Tensions between the Bosnian-Serb Army and the government of the Republika Srpska come to the surface. When army generals, led by Mladic, begin to ignore orders from the government, Karadzic attempts to have them reassigned from the battlefronts. The generals refuse to comply.

The siege of Sarajevo ends in mid-September when the Bosnian-Serbs agree to withdraw their heavy weapons. Approximately 10,000 people have been killed in Sarajevo during the siege, including about 1,500 children.

On 21 November Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman ratify the Dayton accord for peace in Bosnia. Karadzic is forced to accept the accord when Milosevic closes the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina and turns his back on the Bosnian-Serbs.

Under the accord, Bosnia-Herzegovina is divided into a Muslim-Croat federation and a Bosnian-Serb mini-state (the Republika Srpska) under a unified presidency but with separate governments. The trade sanctions against Serbia are lifted.

The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina has cost up to 200,000 or more lives. As many as three million have been driven from their homes and tens of thousands are missing.

On 24 July Karadzic and Mladic are indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague on 16 counts, including genocide, crimes against humanity, crimes against civilians and places of worship, the siege of Sarajevo, and the taking of UN peacekeepers as hostages and human shields.

The indictment accuses them of being "criminally responsible for the unlawful confinement, murder, rape, sexual assault, torture, beating, robbery and inhumane treatment of civilians".

Copy of the indictment against Karadzic.

Copy of the indictment against Mladic.

They are charged separately on 14 November for the genocide at Srebrenica, which is described by one of the tribunal judges as having included events that were "truly scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history".

As the leader of the Bosnian-Serbs, Karadzic is also held responsible for the "ethnic cleansing" of tens of thousands of Muslims from Serb-held areas of Bosnia. As an indicted war criminal, he is banned from standing for parliament. He is also pressured to relinquish his existing government and party positions.

1996 - The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia issues international arrest warrants for Karadzic and Mladic on 11 July.

Mladic is dismissed as commander of the Bosnian-Serb Army. Karadzic steps down as president of the Republika Srpska and as head of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDP) on 19 July. He makes his last public appearance at the christening of his son at an Orthodox Monastery in Montenegro.

1997 - The SDP loses government in Republika Srpska at elections held in December, depriving Karadzic of a power base. Karadzic goes into hiding.

The hunt for Karadzic lasts for over 10 years. Throughout this time, NATO-led search parties and Bosnian-Serb police are unable to locate the fugitive.

At first it is thought that Karadzic is hiding in southeastern border-country of the Republika Srpska. He is believed to be surrounded by heavily armed bodyguards and protected by the police.

Other rumours have him living humbly, heavily disguised as an Orthodox priest, moving between the monasteries of Montenegro under the protection of the Orthodox Church and occasionally visiting his family in Pale.

Later reports place him in Belgrade.

It is also said that Karadzic only moves around at night and employs look-alikes to further confuse his pursuers. The cost of his protection is estimated to be about US$200,000 per month, most of which is allegedly sourced from the criminal activities of his supporters, including extortion, embezzlement and other business fraud.

Karadzic, meanwhile, appears to taut his pursuers by releasing a steady stream of his writings. A book of children's poetry titled 'There are miracles, there are no miracles' is launched in Belgrade on 9 July 2002. 'Miraculous Chronicles of the Night' is published in 2004. The book is a semi-autobiographical story about a prisoner held in a Sarajevo prison on the eve of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It sells out at an international book fair held in Belgrade in October 2004. A new book of poetry by Karadzic is published on 18 October 2005. Titled 'Under the Left Breast of the Century', the book contains 47 poems covering mostly outdoor themes.

Karadzic's pursuers are taunted further still in 2004 when posters of Karadzic begin to appear in Banja Luka, the administrative centre of Republika Srpska. Below a colour photograph of Karadzic the posters bear the words "I'm always with you," and "I'm watching you".

In 2003 the international community attempts to tighten the noose on Karadzic by freezing the assets of his family and some supporters. The European Union also bans his wife Ljiljana, son Aleksandar, and several others from entering its territory.

In 2005 Karadzic's wife makes a public appeal to her husband to surrender to The Hague Tribunal.

"Our family is under constant pressure from all over. Our life and our existence is jeopardised," she says.

"In hope that you are alive and that you can make decisions by yourself, I'm begging you to make this decision. ... I'm now doing the only thing I can; I'm begging you.

"Between loyalty to you and to the children and grandchildren, I had to choose and I have chosen. ... It will be your sacrifice for us, for the sake of your family."

Neither the freezing of the family assets nor the appeal by his wife appear to have any effect on Karadzic.

2000 - The SDP returns to power in Republika Srpska and becomes the largest single party in the Bosnian Parliament.

2002 - Ratko Mladic goes underground when the Serbian Government agrees to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal.

Both Karadzic and Mladic have a price on their head, with the US Government offering a $5 million reward for information leading to their arrest or conviction.

2004 - On 19 April the Criminal Tribunal at The Hague confirms that the massacre at Srebrenica was an act of genocide. "The appeals chamber calls the massacre at Srebrenica by its proper name: genocide," says the tribunal's president, Judge Theodor Meron.

"By seeking to eliminate a part of the Bosnian Muslims, the Bosnian Serb forces committed genocide. They targeted for extinction the 40,000 Bosnian Muslims living in Srebrenica ... They stripped all the male Muslim prisoners, military and civilian, elderly and young, of their personal belongings and identification, and deliberately and methodically killed them solely on the basis of their identity. ...

"Those responsible will bear this stigma, and it will serve as a warning to those who may in future contemplate the commission of such a heinous act."

On 11 June the Srebrenica Commission releases a report that establishes the "participation of (Bosnian-Serb) military and police units, including special units" in the massacre. The 42-page preliminary report also implicates Serbia in the massacre, noting that Serbian police units were ordered to participate.

The Srebrenica Commission was formed in 2003 by Bosnia's international administrator, Lord Ashdown, to investigate who was involved in the massacre and where victims' bodies are buried. The seven-member commission is composed of Bosnian-Serb judges and lawyers, a victims' representative and an international expert.

On 14 November the Norwegian News Agency publishes a report stating that research done by the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has concluded that about 103,000 people were killed during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

According to the report, the researchers found that 55,261 civilians and 47,360 soldiers died as a direct result of the conflict. Of the civilians, about 38,000 were Muslims and Croats and about 16,700 were Serbs. Of the soldiers, about 28,000 were from the mostly Muslim Bosnian Government Army, about 14,000 were from the Bosnian-Serb forces, and about 6,000 were Bosnian-Croat troops.

The estimates exclude those who died from indirect causes such as starvation, cold and lack of medical care.

In June 2007 the Sarajevo Research and Documentation Centre reports that at least 97,207 people were killed during the war. Of this number, 39,684 were civilians and 57,523 military personnel, the report states. About 66% of the victims were Bosnian-Muslims, 26% were Serbs and 8% were Croats. However, the figures in the report also exclude those who died from indirect causes.

2005 - In January Karadzic's former deputy, Biljana Plavsic, publishes a book titled 'I Testify' in which she describes Karadzic's tolerance of wartime profiteering.

"Karadzic admired wartime mobsters who made their fortune overnight by smuggling humanitarian aid and arms," she writes. "Once I asked him openly if people in the leadership were involved in profiteering, and he said 'Well, one has to make a living somehow.'"

Plavsic, who became president of the Republika Srpska before being jailed for 11 years by The Hague Tribunal in 2003 for crimes against humanity, writes that Karadzic got richer during the war, enjoying luxury apartments, a selection of cars and a helicopter. "There was always money for Karadzic's pockets ... sometimes I wondered if he was at all aware of what was going on, that people were dying."

2006 - The International Court of Justice (ICJ), also know as the World Court, begins hearings in a case of genocide that was brought against Yugoslavia by Bosnia-Herzegovina in March 1993.

The ICJ was set up after the Second World War to deal with disputes between states. The court has the authority to order Serbia-Montenegro (the successor state to Yugoslavia) to pay damages if it is found responsible for acts of genocide that occurred in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the 1992-95 conflict.

It is the first time a state has been brought to court to face a charge of genocide.

Meanwhile, on 21 May, Montenegro votes to split from the federation with Serbia. Montenegro formally declares its independence on 3 June. The disintegration of Yugoslavia is now complete.

2007 - On 26 February the ICJ hands down its ruling in the genocide case brought against Yugoslavia by Bosnia-Herzegovina. The court finds that while Serbia, the sole remaining successor of Yugoslavia, had not committed, incited or been complicit in genocide, it had failed to prevent what happened at Srebrenica despite its awareness of "a serious risk" of mass murder and its "known influence" over the Bosnian-Serb militia.

The court finds that "financial compensation is not the appropriate form of reparation". It calls instead for the arrest and delivery of Ratko Mladic to The Hague and a formal declaration from Serbia that it failed to prevent an act of genocide at Srebrenica.

In 2010 the Serbian parliament formally apologises for not doing all it could to prevent the massacre at Srebrenica.

2008 - Karadzic's run from justice finally comes to an end on 18 July when he is arrested in Belgrade by the Serbian security services.

Karadzic is unrecognisable. He has long white hair, a top-knot, a full white beard and glasses. He looks like a New Age hippy or Slav mystic.

Karadzic had been going under the name Dragan David Dabic. He had been living openly in Belgrade for two or three years, working as an alternative medicine practitioner, writing for a health magazine and giving lectures on spirituality. It is reported that he claimed to be an expert in "human quantum energy" and that he even had his own website.

His cover had been blown after his brother, Luka, called him using a phone with a SIM card known to be associated with his support network.

"Hiding was not difficult for me except for the fact that I was separated from my family," Karadzic tells his lawyer, according to a report in the Belgrade newspaper 'Blic'.

"I attended conferences and stood before cameras since I was convinced I would never be found. I exclude the possibility that somebody tipped me off since nobody that I was in contact with knew that I was Radovan Karadzic."

Karadzic is transferred to a prison cell in The Hague on 30 July. He appears before the criminal tribunal for the first time the next day and is formally charged with one count of genocide, one count of complicity in genocide, four counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity.

Karadzic tells the tribunal that he will represent himself during his trial. (In reality he has a large legal team working for him, including four lawyers and an investigator appointed and paid for by the tribunal.) Karadzic refuses to recognise the charges, forcing the tribunal to enter a plea of not guilty on his behalf.

2009 - In February the indictment against Karadzic is amended. The number of charges against him remains the same but their scope is narrowed to expedite the trial. The indictment is further shortened in October.

In August Karadzic tells Reuters new agency, "I don't regret my own role (in the war). I didn't seek public office, but when I held it, I carried out my duties with the best interest of the people in my heart. I regret what happened during the war in Bosnia - the many lives that were lost, the suffering of people of all ethnicities, and the shattering of families and property."

The trail begins on 26 October. Karadzic refuses to attend. The trial is adjourned until 1 March 2010 and a stand-by lawyer is appointed to present the case for the defence if Karadzic continues to boycott proceedings.

2010 - Karadzic attends the trial when it resumes on 1 March, presenting his opening statement.

He says that the Serbs "wanted to live with Muslims, but not under Muslims" and claims that the Muslims were the first to attack. "Their conduct gave rise to our conduct," he says.

"The Serbs were claiming their own territories, and that is not a crime. ... It was never an intention, never any idea let alone a plan, to expel Muslims and Croats."

2011 - Ratko Mladic is captured on 26 May. He is extradited to face trial at The Hague on 31 May.

2012 - The prosecution finishes presenting its case against Karadzic on 25 May. The case for the defence opens on 16 October.

2014 - Summing up of both the prosecution and defence cases begins at the end of September. The prosecution argues that Karadzic should be convicted and imprisoned for life.

"Under his command and oversight, Karadzic's subordinates and those cooperating with them expelled, killed, tortured and otherwise mistreated hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Croats," the prosecutors state in a written submission to the court. "They bombarded Sarajevo with shells and bullets, killing, maiming and terrorising its civilian population for over three-and-a-half years. The scale and scope of these criminal campaigns is vast."

Karadzic counters that there is not "a shred of evidence" linking him to atrocities committed during the Bosnian war. He says there was no systematic ethnic cleansing of territory under his control during the conflict and that, at the time, he was unaware of the massacre at Srebrenica. He says he should be acquitted on all charges.

Presentations to the trial conclude on 7 October, ending a five-year hearing during which nearly 600 prosecution and defence witnesses gave testimony. The judges now retire to consider their verdict.

2016 - The tribunal judges finally hand down their verdict on Karadzic on 24 March. The judges find that following the outbreak of conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992, Serb forces engaged in "an organised and systematic pattern of crimes ... against Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats". Further, the campaign against non-Serbs was "carefully coordinated, directed, and ultimately intended" by Karadzic and the Bosnian-Serb leadership.

Karadzic bears "individual criminal responsibility ... for persecution, extermination, murder, deportation and forcible transfer as crimes against humanity; and murder, a violation of the laws or customs of war."

In relation to the siege of Sarajevo, the tribunal finds that Karadzic "significantly contributed" to a plan to spread terror among the civilian population of the city through a campaign of sniping and shelling. According to the tribunal, the only "reasonable inference" that can be drawn from Karadzic's acts "is that he intended murder, unlawful attack on civilians, and terror".

Accordingly, Karadzic "bears individual criminal responsibility ... for murder, unlawful attacks on civilians, and terror, as violations of the laws or customs of war and for murder as a crime against humanity".

The tribunal makes its most damaging findings in relation to the genocide at Srebrenica, concluding that "the systematic and highly organised nature of the killings, demonstrate a clear intent to kill every able-bodied Bosnian Muslim male from Srebrenica". The tribunal finds that Karadzic shared that intent and is responsible for the genocide.

Karadzic is found guilty on 10 of the 11 charges he faced, including the charge of genocide for the Srebrenica massacre. He is sentenced to 40 years in prison, with credit for time already served. The court finds there is not enough evidence to convict Karadzic of the second charge of genocide relating to the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia.

A legal adviser for Karadzic says he will appeal the judgement.


No one emerged a victor of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. No one emerged a hero. Just about everyone was a victim, including the Bosnian-Serbs, who were lied to and manipulated by their leaders, and by Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade. And the victim's mentality remains, with the Bosnian-Serb leadership steadfastly denying complicity and responsibility, just as Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic maintain their innocence.

Though of course it isn't quite that black and white. The atrocities committed were the worst seen in Europe since the Second World War, but not the worst ever seen in Yugoslavia. That happened 50 years earlier, during the regime of Croat fascist Ante Pavelic and his murderous Ustase storm troopers. The tally then was 300,000 to one million, including up to 30,000 Jews, up to 29,000 Gipsies, and between 300,000 and 600,000 Serbs.

That atrocity has contributed in no small part to the paranoia that informs much of the national psyche of the Bosnian-Serbs. And you can understand them, to a degree. In parts of Croatia, Pavelic is still regarded as a national hero.