The amended ICTY indictment against Radovan Karadzic was made public by the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal on September 23. Its objective is not only to reinforce the charge of genocide against the former Bosnian-Serb leader himself and ipso facto against the Bosnian-Serb Republic (Republika Srpska), but also to make yet another attempt to assert the culpability of Serbia – and by extension the collective guilt of the entire Serbian nation – in that alleged crime.

The Tribunal is making the assertion of Belgrade’s complicity in an indirect and partly concealed manner. Unlike the original indictments (July-November 1995), amended in May 2000, in the latest modified indictment the OTP (Office of the Prosecutor) narrows down it focus on one „overreaching“ and three „common“ joint criminal conspiracies. The first of them accuses Karadzic of being part of a criminal conspiracy to carry out genocide in Bosnia in the areas claimed by Serbs. It claims that, in addition to a number of persons from the Republika Srpska, this „joint criminal conspiracy“ included several former top officials of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Republic of Serbia, specifically former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, former security service chief Jovica Stanisic, his aide Frenki Simatovic, and prominent politician Vojisal Seselj (Art. 11), as well as an indeterminate number of unnamed and unindicted personnel of the Serbian Interior Ministry, MUP, the Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, and the Yugoslav Army, VJ (Art. 12).

It is noteworthy that Karadzic’s named alleged co-conspirators from Belgrade are either unable to defend themselves against this new charge, or else have not been accused of it – although they are in ICTY custody:

  • Milosevic died in March 2006 and therefore he is unable to defend himself against this new charge, although he mounted a vigorous and effective defense against a similar charge concerning Kosovo;
  • Stanisic, Simatovic and Seselj have been indicted by the ICTY on lesser counts, but since none of them have been accused of „genocide“ by the Tribunal they cannot mount any defense in their own trials against this additional and very serious charge that appears on Karadzic’s rap sheet;
  • Additional Belgrade personnel (MUP, JNA and VJ) remain unnamed and therefore cannot mount a defense.

The ICTY OTP strategy is clear: to force Karadzic to defend not just himself against the charge of genocide, but also his various alleged fellow-conspirators in Serbia – named and unnamed – who have not been accused of this supreme crime themselves. His failure to do so will result in a conviction that will apply not only to him but also to all others.

In preparing his defense Karadzic will naturally focus on himself and his own actions, as may well be expected of any accused. This will be just what the OTP wants: to smuggle the pan-Serbian conspiracy to commit „genocide“ involving Belgrade – a charge so far unproven and rejected by the International Court of Justice – on the back of Karadzic’s indictment. If it is „proven,“ at the ICTY, the Sarajevo Muslims will duly renew their case against Serbia at the ICJ.

A year and a half ago, in a landmark case that put a nation on trial for genocide for the first time in history, Serbia was found not guilty by the International Court of Justice at The Hague. „The court finds that the acts of genocide at Srebrenica cannot be attributed to [Serbia’s] state organs,“ said the ICJ president, Judge Rosalyn Higgins, in the ruling made public on February 26, 2007. She said it could also not be established that Serbia had been complicit by supplying aid to the Bosnian Serbs in the summer of 1995, when the killings at Srebrenica took place. Reflecting the complexities of the case, the 16 judges deliberated for 10 months. The court’s decisions are binding, without appeal, and enforceable by the UN Security Council.

The Muslim authorities in Sarajevo instituted proceedings against Serbia at the ICJ in March 1993, charging the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (as it was then) of violating the 1948 U.N. Genocide Convention. The case continued after the end of the Bosnian war in October 1995 and the fall of Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000, even though the Republika Srpska (RS)—a constituent Bosnian entity—subsequently objected to the charge being brought on behalf of „Bosnia-Herzegovina“ as a whole. The RS authorities disputed the legitimacy of the filing of the Bosnian application to the Court because it had not been ratified by the post-Dayton presidency, where the Bosnian Serbs would have been able to veto it.

Most major media depositors in the bank of collective Serbian guilt have tried to spin the verdict, but they could not alter the significance of the ICJ ruling, which came just two weeks before the first anniversary of the death of Slobodan Milosevic in detention at The Hague Tribunal. The „Bosnian“ case against Milosevic had rested on his alleged incitement of the Bosnian Serbs to commit genocide and his supposed personal responsibility for its occurrence. As John Laughland was quick to note in The Guardian on February 28, 2007, Milosevic was posthumously exonerated by the ICJ. He had always argued that neither Yugoslavia nor Serbia had command of the Bosnian Serb army, and this has now been upheld by the world court.

„If Milosevic were still alive,“ I wrote in February 2007, „the ICTY would have to devise some creative stratagems to deal with the implications of the ICJ verdict. It would have found them, no doubt.“

Now we know that it has done so regardless of his death, posthumously reindicting Milosevic in the charge against Karadzic. This reflects ever more glaringly the fact that the ICTY is a political, rather than judicial institution. It will continue to deny what I have argued for years: that the crimes in Bosnia in 1992-1995 were not the direct result of anyone’s „nationalist project“ as such. The crimes were the results of the war, not its causes. However severely they must be judged, they were the consequence of a great, complex international blunder, and of Izetbegovic’s decision to secede. Events cut channels deeper and less controllable than the intentions of anyone.