Radovan Karadžić, the former Bosnian Serb leader convicted of genocide over the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica, is to be transferred to a UK prison to serve the rest of his life sentence.
The 75-year-old was found guilty in 2016 of 10 of the 11 charges he faced at the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia over his role in the mass killings of civilians in the conflict that tore Bosnia apart more than a quarter of a century ago. In 2019, judges at The Hague in the Netherlands increased his sentence from 40 years to life following a failed appeal attempt.
The Foreign Office said on Wednesday it had been agreed that Karadžić should be transferred to a UK prison to serve the rest of his sentence.
Karadžić objected to the transfer on safety grounds, citing the case of the former Serbian general Radislav Krstić, who had his throat cut by Islamic extremists at Wakefield prison in West Yorkshire, and the former Liberian president Charles Taylor, who challenged his imprisonment in the UK.
But Carmel Agius, the president of the the UN’s international residual mechanism for criminal tribunals, ordered his transfer after hearing representations.
Karadžić’s lawyer, Peter Robinson, said: “The president has designated the UK as the place where he is to serve his sentence over our objections.
“We objected because of what happened to General Krstić in the UK and because of the difficulties faced by Liberian president Charles Taylor. With a high percentage of Muslims among the prison population, we feel Karadžić will be in danger, and to keep him safe will require measures tantamount to solitary confinement.”
The UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said: “Radovan Karadžić is one of the few people to have been found guilty of genocide. He was responsible for the massacre of men, women and children at the Srebrenica genocide and helped prosecute the siege of Sarajevo with its remorseless attacks on civilians.
“We should take pride in the fact that, from UK support to secure his arrest, to the prison cell he now faces, Britain has supported the 30-year pursuit of justice for these heinous crimes.”
The Guardian understands that the UK volunteered to take Karadžić as part of efforts to support international justice. The Ministry of Justice said it would not provide details of Karadžić’s imprisonment, including the location of the jail, for security reasons.
It is not the first time an international war criminal has been transferred to a UK prison. As well as Krstić, Momčilo Krajišnik, one of the highest-ranking wartime members of the Bosnian Serb leadership, served his sentence in the UK. He was released in 2013 and died in 2020.
Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, a member of Ansar Dine, a Tuareg Islamist militia in north Africa, served his jail term in Scotland after being convicted at the international criminal court in 2016 for the war crime of attacking religious and historical buildings in the Malian city of Timbuktu.
Taylor is serving his jail term in the UK after being convicted of war crimes over his support for rebels who committed atrocities in Sierra Leone. He lost an appeal to be transferred to an African jail, arguing that he was being denied his rights to a family life because his wife and children had not been granted UK visas to visit him.
Karadžić led a breakaway Serb territory when Bosnia declared independence from a crumbling Yugoslavia in 1992, after the Soviet Union’s collapse. The subsequent conflict was marked by atrocities against civilians, most carried out by Bosnian Serb troops, who conducted a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” to rid the self-proclaimed Republika Srpska of Muslims and ethnic Croats.
About 100,000 people were killed and 2.2 million left homeless. The mass killings culminated in the Srebrenica massacre.