Holbrooke Accused of Appeasing Serb War Criminal


Posted Mar 27, 2009      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Recent news reports and a university study reveal that Radovan Karadzic, the Serb war criminal that led the genocide in Bosnia, alleges that Richard Holbrooke, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, had promised him immunity from prosecution if he stepped down from power after the   Bosnian crisis subsided. If these claims are true, they throw a shadow over Holbrooke’s current efforts to broker peace and security in south Asia.

In 1995, Holbrooke was among the leaders of the American delegation that brokered the Dayton Accords, ending the three-year   onslaught on civilians in Bosnia. The U.S.‘s interventions helped save Bosnian lives and stabilize and secure the wider Balkan region. U.S. involvement in that conflict was also a bright spot in America’s relations with the Muslim world.

Unfortunately, the rumor against Holbrooke persists, and a Purdue University study finds evidence from unnamed senior U.S. State Department officials that supports Karadzic’s allegation. Though Karadzic is being charged for genocide and other crimes against civilians by the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, his claim against Holbrooke raises serious questions about whether there was a sub-policy of what appears to be appeasing war criminals.

As the world watched with horror the events unfolding in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serb troops attacked or burned down homes and captured, detained, and abused civilians. Men and women were separated and placed into camps, and the women were systematically and repeatedly raped by Serb troops.

Two years after the United Nations designated Srebrenica, a region in eastern Bosnia, a “safe region” and to which UN peacekeeping forces were deployed, Serb troops massacred over 8,000 Muslim men and boys over several days in July 1995. The International Court of Justice in The Hague has deemed the Srebrenica massacre a genocide, and former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan described the slayings as “the darkest page in UN history.”  Indeed the genocide in Bosnia involved war crimes that had not happened since the Holocaust. 

Karadzic is implicated in the Srebrenica genocide for having ordered the massacre of Muslim males in July 1995. According to reports, Karadzic said to a Serb politician just prior to the Serb troop invasion and mass killing that “all of them need to be killed—whatever you can lay your hands on.” He is one of two men accused of masterminding these massacres (the Srebrenica slayings were only one of three that occurred in Bosnia during the war). Karadzic is responsible for motivating Serb Christian figures who were defaming and demonizing Islam to justify genocide in that region.

Most disconcerting about the role of the United States in this conflict is that its record is blemished with Karadzic’s allegation and other reports. Muhamed Sacirbey, former ambassador to the UN from Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992-2000, was known for pursuing a genocide case against the Serbs a decade ago, a move he said was resented by Holbrooke. Sacirbey is thought to hold “potentially embarrassing details about American and European passivity in the face of atrocities in the former Yugoslavia.”

With Holbrooke denying the allegations and Karadzic standing by his claim, Congress must investigate the envoy’s involvement either by means of a hearing or a review by the Helsinki Commission. This commission is an independent government agency created by Congress to monitor and encourage compliance with commitments agreed upon by the 56 signatories to the Helsinki Final Act.

It is of extreme importance that Holbrooke and the United States absolve themselves from any action that would pardon an accused war criminal from punishment. Anything less will diminish America’s standing in the Muslim world. It would also impact Holbrooke’s credibility as President Obama’s envoy to establishing peace and security in south Asia, raising questions as to whether justice was or would be sacrificed for political expedience.