SREBRENICA/PALE, BOSNIA – Survivors of the Srebrenica massacre said the 40-year prison term handed down on Thursday to Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan 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 General Ratko 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 the 70-year-old 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 Milorad 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.”