At his arraignment yesterday, Radovan Karadžić repeated a claim that has been made by many people (among them Florence Hartmann, Biljana Plavšić, Muhamed Šaćirbej ....) that he felt he had been protected by an agreement he had made in 1996 with Richard Holbrooke, who was then the US envoy overseeing the negotiation and implementation of the Dayton agreement in Bosnia-Hercegovina. As the story goes, the offer was made to Karadžić that if he were to withdraw from public life, in return for this the United States would either (in some versions) see to it that he would not be pursued and arrested or (in more dramatic versions) see to it that the charges against him would be withdrawn. Today's Blic offers an overview of stories involving the "Holbrooke agreement."
The US State Department denies that there was an agreement, as does Richard Holbrooke. But of course denials do not tell us anything about factual states, merely what somebody would prefer for us to believe. All the same, there is as yet no convincing evidence (say, a copy of the signed agreement) that would definitively tell us there was an agreement. What we have to do is the same thing we do with the Karađorđevo agreement -- some people claim that Milošević and Tuđman agreed in advance on the territorial division of Bosnia-Hercegovina, nobody has produced the smoking cocktail napkin or whatever it is that thugs in power write their mash notes on, so what is left to make inferences from the facts that are available.
Here is what we know: 1) The US long regarded the Tribunal as an obstacle to its efforts to negotiate with the criminals who would be charged, and refused to assist in the arrest of suspects or provide Tribunal researchers with evidence from sources such as satellite intercepts which the US intelligence agencies collected. 2) There was a longish period during which it was possible to arrest Karadžić and other indictees but this was not done. 3) After 2000, when a new president was appointed by the Supreme Court, US foreign policy became increasingly hostile to international legal institutions, international agreements and international organisations in general.
At the same time, here are some more things that we know: 1) Richard Holbrooke never had the authority to create obligations for the US by means of a personal initiative. 2) If he did ever have it, he did not have the means to enforce it, particularly after the administration he served left office, 3) An obligation undertaken by the US State Department would not create obligations for UN institutions or any other countries.
So my conclusion is that maybe Richard Holbrooke did make some promises to Radovan Karadžić. If he did, it was a mildly clever way of influencing a gullible megalomaniac. It never could have any legal force, neither in preventing Serbia from arresting Karadžić nor in preventing the UN from trying him.