Did Richard Holbrooke Make a Secret Amnesty Deal with Radovan Karadzic?

by Julian Ku

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. envoy credited with forcing the final peace settlement in the Bosnia wars, is being accused of making a secret 1995 deal with notorious already-indicted Serb war criminal Radovan Karadzic to get Karadzic to give up power. Supposedly, Holbrooke agreed to not hunt Karadzic and prosecute him for war crimes if Karadzic would give up power.

Media in the Balkans over the weekend published a document, allegedly signed by Holbrooke and Karadzic in 1996, that grants Karadzic freedom in case he gives up politics and disappears from public view.

The document, made available to the AP, says that Karadzic must cease all public functions, including giving interviews or someone else publishing his statements.

The Serbian-language document says that the U.S. State Department would provide Karadzic with US$600,000 for his and his family’s spending for a period of six years in exchange for his disappearance.

The U.S. State Department has issued a flat and complete denial. And this is not surprising. If true, Holbrooke’s greatest diplomatic triumph would be, at least in part, the result of making a deal with a brutal relentless indicted war criminal (Karadzic was already indicted at the time of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords). So it can’t possibly be true, right?

As between Holbrooke and Karadzic, one has to believe Holbrooke. But I wonder. As a diplomatic tactic, granting amnesty but not admitting that you are granting amnesty may be the best of both worlds. You retain some vague deterrence effect from the threat of war crimes prosecutions while achieving the peace settlement that the amnesty is necessary to facilitate.

Still, I would be interested in seeing the document and hearing from someone who speaks Serbian or whether we can get some document experts on the case. And it is rather odd that Karadzic has continued to wander free 12 years later with NATO troops still all over Bosnia. (Something that continues to embitter outgoing ICTY Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte).


3 Responses

  1. Julian,

    This supposed document was first published a few days ago in a rather obscure Bosnian Serb newspaper, which doesn’t even have a website. Of course, this has now been reported eslewhere, but it is still only this newspaper which possesses the facsimile of the document. The most detailed account I have seen in the Serbian press is in the Politika newspaper, where you can actually see a part of the document.

    I certainly agree with you that sometimes granting secret amnesties (and preferably reneging on them later) can be a viable diplomatic option for ending armed conflicts. That might even be the case when it comes to Karadzic. I, however, seriously doubt that if there was an agreement that it would be put into writing, and I most seriously doubt that this particular document is that agreement.

    This is so because this document doesn’t just say that the US has allowed Karadzic to hide; it says that the US is actually hiding him. Among other things, American obligations are supposedly (1) to give Karadzic money; (2) to provide him with a safe residence; and (3) to give him a security detail of six people. I find it totally incredible that Karadzic would actually agree to be guarded by the American secret service or whatever. He would be completely powerless in such a position, and there would be nothing preventing an American government to pull a Saddam Hussein on him and give him a lice inspection on global TV.

    So, it certainly is possible that there is an agreement. The fact that international forces in Bosnia have not managed to come close to Karadzic for 10 years certainly speaks to that effect. It is, however, very unlikely in my view that this document is the actual agreement.

  2. Thanks, Marko, this is really helpful and measured.

  3. We’ve come to expect no less from Marko!

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