THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS/SREBRENICA/PALE, SERBIA – A U.N. court convicted former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic of genocide and nine other charges Thursday and sentenced him to 40 years in prison for orchestrating Serb atrocities throughout Bosnia’s 1992-95 war that left 100,000 people dead.
As he sat down after hearing his sentence, Karadzic slumped slightly in his chair, but showed little emotion. He plans to appeal the convictions.
The U.N. court found Karadzic guilty of genocide in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in which 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered in Europe’s worst mass murder since the Holocaust.
Presiding Judge O-Gon Kwon said Karadzic was the only person in the Bosnian Serb leadership with the power to halt the genocide, but instead gave an order for prisoners to be transported from one location to another to be killed.
In a carefully planned operation, Serb forces transported Muslim men to sites around the Srebrenica enclave in eastern Bosnia and gunned them down before dumping their bodies into mass graves.
Kwon said Karadzic and his military commander, Gen. Ratko Mladic, intended “that every able-bodied Bosnian Muslim male from Srebrenica be killed.”
Karadzic 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 and for taking hostage U.N. peacekeepers.
However, the court acquitted Karadzic in a second genocide charge, for a campaign to drive Bosnian Muslims and Croats out of villages claimed by Serb forces.
Peter Robinson, part of Karadzic’s legal team, said he would appeal.
“Dr. Karadzic is disappointed. He’s astonished,” Robinson told reporters. “He feels the trial chamber took inference instead of evidence in reaching the conclusions that it did.”
Karadzic had faced a total of 11 charges and a maximum life sentence, but was given 40 years imprisonment.
Prosecutors had sought a life sentence, but the court’s chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, said 40 years amounted to the same thing for the 70-year-old Karadzic.
“Overall, we are satisfied with the outcome,” Brammertz said. He said prosecutors would carefully study the judgment before deciding whether to appeal the one genocide acquittal.
In Sarajevo, Amra Misic, 49, said: “I took a day off to watch the verdict as I was waiting for this for 20 years. I wish him a long life,” she said.
Prosecutors held Karadzic responsible as a political leader and commander-in-chief of Serb forces in Bosnia, which are blamed for the worst atrocities of the war. Karadzic had insisted he was innocent and says his wartime actions were intended to protect Serbs.
The trial is hugely significant for the U.N. 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.
“Victims and their families have waited for over two decades to see Karadzic’s day of reckoning,” Param-Preet Singh, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
“The Karadzic verdict sends a powerful signal that those who order atrocities cannot simply wait out justice,” Singh said.
In Bosnia, which has remained divided since the war, posters displaying Karadzic’s photo and saying “We are all Radovan” were plastered on walls in several towns in the Serb part of the country. Dozens of people gathered in a park in the Bosnian Serb town of Doboj to offer support to Karadzic.
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 was 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.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s deputy spokesman, Fanhan Haq, told reporters that the judgment “sends a strong signal to all who are in positions of responsibility that they will be held accountable for their actions; and shows once again that fugitives cannot outrun the international community’s collective resolve to make sure that they face justice according to the law.”
Survivors of the Srebrenica massacre said the 40-year jail term handed down on Thursday to Bosnian Serb wartime leader Karadzic for war crimes and genocide was not tough enough and came too late.
“I am so disappointed,” said Bida Smajlovic, 64, who watched a live broadcast of the verdict with her two sisters-in-law in Potocari, a Srebrenica suburb where the three women saw their husbands for the last time 21 years ago.
“We have been in shock ever since the first gunshot and this is yet another one,” she added.
“I wish there was capital punishment,” added Vasva Smajlovic, 73. “My husband is dead for 20 years and Karadzic is still alive. At least I expected a lifetime (in) prison.”
Their husbands all perished when Bosnian Serb forces, commanded by Mladic, took over the U.N.-protected area of Srebrenica on July 11, 1995.
They separated women from men and massacred about 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Europe’s worst single atrocity since World War II.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) found Karadzic guilty on 10 counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the customs of war, including the genocide in Srebrenica. It acquitted him of charges for genocide in seven other municipalities.
The Serbian Cabinet will meet on Friday to discuss the verdict, state TV said.
In Bosnia’s autonomous Serb Republic, which Karadzic helped to found, many complained they had been unfairly singled out for punishment.
Bosnian Serb President Dodik said the tribunal’s verdicts against Karadzic and others would “contribute to new divisions” in the ethnically fractured country.
In Srebrenica, now a ghost town, there were few passers-by willing to comment on the verdict on the president of the self-styled Bosnian Serb Republic and the supreme commander of its armed forces during the 1992-95 war.
Bida Smajlovic’s husband tried to escape through the woods but was killed along with his two brothers. Their bodies were found in two separate mass graves in eastern Bosnia, where bones of Srebrenica victims are still being dug out 20 years later.
“This came too late,” she sighed. Smajlovic’s home, where she lives alone, overlooks 7,000 white tombstones where the victims were buried. Another 1,000 are still unaccounted for.
“We were handed down a verdict in 1995,” she said. “There is no sentence that could compensate for the horrors we went through or for the tears of only one mother, let alone thousands.”
The third sister-in-law, Sajma Smajlovic, 63, said her only hope now was that Mladic, also on trial for genocide in The Hague, would get the sentence he deserved. Her husband, two brothers, father and four sons-in-law were killed in the massacre.
Bosnian President Bakir Izetbegovic, a leader of Bosnia’s Muslim Bosniaks, said it was the most significant war crimes verdict since the Nazi trials after World War II. “This was the verdict on a terrible ideology and politics,” he said.
But in Banja Luka, the Serb Republic capital, resident Dragan Djuric dismissed the Hague tribunal as “a court which judges only one people upon the orders of America.”
In Karadzic’s wartime stronghold of Pale, Mladen Bosic, head of the Serb Democratic Party that Karadzic founded in 1990, told a news conference that the 40-year sentence “is unfair and will contribute neither to truth nor to trust in our region.”
Serb nationalists also complained that the U.N. court handed down its verdict on March 24, the anniversary of the launch of NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia in 1999.
Some Serbs fear the court verdict could be used to undermine the Serb Republic (Republika Srpska), which survived as an autonomous part of Bosnia under the U.S.-brokered Dayton accord that ended the war.
Karadzic’s daughter, Sonja, said the “first half” of her father’s trial was over, referring to his plan to appeal.
“Republika Srpska is definitely not a genocidal creation,” she was quoted as saying by Beta news agency.
In Belgrade, around 5,000 supporters of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party rallied to protest at the sentence on Karadzic and to denounce the EU-friendly policies of Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic.
Nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj, himself a war crimes defendant awaiting his verdict from the U.N. court, told the rally that the verdict on Karadzic was “a sentence against the entire Serbian nation.”