THE HAGUE, Netherlands, March 24, (Agencies): Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was convicted of genocide and nine other charges Thursday at a UN court, and sentenced to 40 years in prison. The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal found Karadzic guilty of orchestrating Serb atrocities throughout Bosnia’s 1992-95 war that left 100,000 people dead.
The UN court found Karadzic criminally responsible for genocide in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in which 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered. He was also held criminally responsible for murder, attacking civilians and terror for overseeing the deadly 44-month siege of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, during the war.
However, the court didn’t hold Karadzic responsible in a second genocide charge, for a campaign to drive Bosnian Muslims and Croats out of villages claimed by Serb forces. Karadzic had faced a total of 11 charges and a maximum life sentence, but was given 40 years imprisonment. Karadzic can appeal the ruling. Prosecutors had accused Karadzic of being responsible as a political leader and commander-in-chief of Serb forces in Bosnia, which are accused of the worst atrocities of the war. The 70-year-old Karadzic had insisted he was innocent and says his wartime actions were intended to protect Serbs. The trial is hugely significant for the UN tribunal and the development of international law.
Karadzic is the most senior Bosnian Serb leader to face prosecution at the court housed in a former insurance company headquarters in The Hague. Karadzic’s conviction will most likely strengthen international jurisprudence on the criminal responsibility of political leaders for atrocities committed by forces under their control. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, accused of fomenting deadly conflicts across the Balkans as Yugoslavia crumbled in the 1990s, died in his cell in The Hague in 2006 before judges could deliver verdicts in his trial.
Karadzic’s trial is one of the final acts at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal. The court, set up in 1993, indicted 161 suspects. Of them, 80 were convicted and sentenced, 18 acquitted, 13 sent back to local courts and 36 had the indictments withdrawn or died.
Apart from Karadzic, three suspects remain on trial, including his military chief, Gen. Ratko Mladic, and Serb ultranationalist Vojislav Seselj. Eight cases are being appealed and two defendants are to face retrials. The judgment in Seselj’s case is scheduled for next Thursday. Karadzic was indicted along with Mladic in 1995, but evaded arrest until he was captured in Belgrade, Serbia, in 2008. At the time, he was posing as a New Age healer, Dr. Dragan Dabic, and was disguised by a thick beard and shaggy hair. More than 20 years after the guns fell silent in Bosnia, Karadzic is still considered a hero in Serb-controlled parts of the divided country.
Last weekend, current Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik opened a student dormitory named after Karadzic and had Karadzic’s daughter and wife unveil the plaque. Speaking at the opening, Dodik called the trial “humiliating” and said those who fail to understand why Karadzic is hailed this way are “shallow- minded.” His words were followed by resounding applause. In related news, Judge O-Gon Kwon said the court in The Hague found Karadzic guilty of genocide for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre and nine other charges of murder, persecution, and hostage-taking. But in what will be a blow to thousands of victims, the court said it did not have enough evidence to prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that genocide had been committed in seven Bosnian towns and villages over two decades ago. It marks the end of a marathon trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia for Karadzic’s role during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war that claimed more than 100,000 lives and displaced 2.2 million others.
The 70-year-old listened stonyfaced as Kwon said it was clear Karadzic bore “individual criminal responsibility” for murder, persecution as well as the hostage-taking of UN peacekeepers. Karadzic “was at the apex of political, governmental and military structures” of the Bosnian Serb leadership and “at the forefront of developing and promoting its ideologies,” Kwon said. “I hope this court will fulful its mission and put this man behind bars. Our children are dead,” Munira Subasic, from the Mother’s of Srebrenica, told AFP before the verdict. “I hope finally the lies that have been told in Bosnia will be exposed,” she added. UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein hailed the verdict as “hugely significant”.
The hearing, which has drawn more than 200 journalists and over 100 other diplomats and observers, took place amid tight security, with one police officer saying they were on “extra alert” following Tuesday’s attacks in neighbouring Belgium. This was done through a ruthless campaign of ethnic cleansing, indiscriminate killings, persecutions and terror. A long-time fugitive from justice until his arrest on a Belgrade bus in 2008, Karadzic, a one-time psychiatrist with his trademark bouffant hairdo, was found guilty for his role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in eastern Bosnia. Almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered and their bodies dumped in mass graves by Bosnian Serb forces who brushed aside Dutch UN peacekeepers in the supposedly “safe area.”
The massacre was the worst bloodshed on European soil since World War II. He was also found guilty of being behind the 44-month siege of Sarajevo in which 10,000 civilians died in a relentless campaign of sniping and shelling. “It’s a hugely significant day today for international justice,” said Jasna Causevic, 58, one of the protesters outside the ICTY. “Karadzic and his group, including Milosevic, divided Bosnia and that’s still the case today,” she told AFP. In an unexpected earlier drama, the former spokeswoman for ex-chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte was detained at the tribunal by UN guards. Florence Hartmann had been convicted of contempt and sentenced to seven days in jail for revealing confidential court details in a 2007 book. During the trial, which open in 2009 and ended in October 2014 after an exhausting 497 days in the courtroom, some 115,000 pages of documentary evidence were presented along with 586 witnesses.