Late last week in the presence of victims, journalists, diplomats, and representatives of civil society groups, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) delivered guilty verdicts in Radovan Karadžić's trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. From 1992 to 1996, Karadžić was president of the Republika Srpska, or Bosnian Serb Republic. His leadership of the breakaway group spanned the four-year-long siege of Sarajevo and included the massacre at Srebrenica in which 8,000 Bosnian men were killed in the worst crime of its kind in Europe since World War II. Bringing to an end legal proceedings that had first begun with an appearance before the court on July 31, 2008, the ICTY sentenced Karadžić to forty years in prison.
Beginning in April 1992, first the Yugoslav People's Army and later the irregular forces of the Republika Srpska took up positions outside Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia. Over a period of 1,425 days--a full year longer than the Germans' siege of Leningrad in World War II--Serbian forces lobbed mortar shells into the city from nearby mountains and killed both citizens and soldiers with sniper fire on the streets. Roughly 14,000 people died during the siege (including over 5,000 civilians) and tens of thousands more fled the city. On the night of August 25, 1992, the National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina was destroyed along with most of the two million manuscripts it housed. The library had been targeted by the Serbs for weeks. (For a brief UNESCO video on the National Library's destruction, go here.)
In the period before the massacre at Srebrenica, one of the most dramatic crimes committed under Karadžić's leadership was the shelling of the market in Sarajevo on February 5, 1994. A mortar fired from one of the hills surrounding Sarajevo exploded in a crowded outdoor market killing 68 people. Karadžić responded to the international outcry following the market bombing by claiming that the Bosnians had staged the scene to mislead the media. The bodies, Karadžić alleged, had been taken from the morgue and posed to look like victims of a mortar attack. Only the most ardent supporters of the Bosnian Serbs were fooled by these lies.
Although Sarajevo had been under attack at that point for almost two years, the manner and magnitude of the killing in the market shocked the international community and led to NATO intervention. NATO airstrikes targeted Serb positions surrounding the city and allowed Bosnian military forces to launch an offensive against the forces of the Republika Srpska. Following a ceasefire negotiated in October, the parties agreed to the Dayton Accords, an agreement brokered by the United States, on December 14, 1995. On February 29, 1996, the Bosnians declared the end of the siege as the last Bosnian Serb fighters withdrew.
Before his arrest in 2008, Karadžić managed to hide in plain sight in Serbia's capital, Belgrade. He grew a long white beard, tied his hair in a knot at the top of his head, and assumed the name "Dr. Dragan Dabic." As Dr. Dabic, Karadžić promoted alternative health care, lecturing publicly and even going on television. The government of Serbia for years showed little interest in arresting Karadžić, but pressure from the European Union (no cooperation with the ICTY, no membership in the EU was its message) eventually resulted in both Slobodan Milosevic, the former president of Serbia, and Karadžić being arrested and delivered into the custody of the ICTY.