THE HAGUE: Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic will spend the rest of his life in jail for the “sheer scale and systematic cruelty” of his crimes in the war that tore his country apart a quarter of a century ago, UN judges said on Wednesday.
Grim-faced and silent, the 73-year-old stood in the dock as judges in The Hague said they had upheld his 2016 convictions for genocide in the Srebrenica massacre and war crimes throughout the 1990s.
Ending one of the last remaining cases from the break-up of Yugoslavia, the tribunal also increased his original 40-year sentence, saying it did not reflect his role in the worst bloodshed in Europe since World War II.
Judges at the original trial “underestimated the extreme gravity of Karadzic’s responsibility for the most grave crimes committed during the period of conflict, noted for their sheer scale and systematic cruelty”, head judge Vagn Joensen said.
“Karadzic’s contention that he was a psychiatrist and poet with no military training ignores his extensive authority over Bosnian military forces.” The panel of appeals judges therefore “imposes a sentence of life imprisonment”, he said.
Bereaved family members in the public gallery of the court all stood up as one as the verdict was announced, applauding and cheering before security guards ordered them to stop. Relatives of victims had called for a life sentence for the man who, along with his military right-hand man Ratko Mladic and late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, was one of the main architects of the carnage in the Balkans.
“My soul now is satisfied,” said Emma Cekic, 62, whose husband Salih and many cousins were killed near Sarajevo. Speaking to reporters outside the court, she said: “We can’t get back our relatives. But today we have justice in the end.”
Around 100,000 people eventually died and 2.2 million others were left homeless in the brutal three-year war that pitted Muslims, Serbs and Croats against each other. In a sign of the fierce passions the case still raises, relatives chased Karadzic’s lawyer Peter Robinson when he emerged from the court and shouted him down as he tried to speak to reporters. Robinson said Karadzic had a “has a lot of regrets for what happened during the war” but “does not have an individual criminal responsibility.”
“Life is no different than 40 years because he would be 103 when he serves his 40 years’ sentence. So it has no meaning for him,” Robinson added. A former academic turned brutal political leader, Karadzic was arrested in 2008 in Belgrade after nearly 13 years on the run during which he posed as a new age healer called Dragan Dabic.
In 2016, Karadzic was found guilty on 10 counts including orchestrating a nearly four-year siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, where more than 10,000 people died in a campaign of sniping and shelling, according to prosecutors.
He was also found guilty of genocide in Srebrenica, where Bosnian Serb troops slaughtered more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys in eastern Bosnia, which was supposed to be under UN protection, and buried their bodies in mass graves. Prosecutors said Karadzic wanted to “permanently remove Muslims and Croats” from territory claimed by Bosnian Serbs at the time.
Bespectacled and with his trademark mane of white hair swept back from his face, Karadzic said nothing as the verdict was read out, but shortly afterwards looked to the public gallery and gave a small smile.
Appeals judges repeatedly dismissed Karadzic’s claims that he was not aware of orders by Bosnian Serb forces to eliminate Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, and to indiscriminately target civilians in Sarajevo.
They rejected Karadzic’s claims that he did not know a military directive he drafted and signed on the fate of Srebrenica called for Bosnian Serb forces to create an “unbearable situation with no hope of further survival” for inhabitants.
Karadzic’s case still bitterly divides the country he helped drive to war, with widows of Srebrenica hoping he dies in prison even as Bosnian Serbs have honoured him with a university dorm in his name. Families of the victims of Srebrenica were watching the verdict at the Women of Srebrenica association building in the town of Tuzla.
Hajrija Oric, 63, who came to the Srebrenica memorial centre to watch the verdict, showed AFP photos of her son 17-year-old son Elvir and husband Sahin who were both killed in the massacre.
Their remains were found years later and buried. “All I found was a handful of bones and head. I would give everything, I would give my eyes if I could bring them back but it cannot happen,” she said.
Ex-military chief Mladic, 76, dubbed the “Butcher of Bosnia”, is currently appealing a life sentence on similar charges. Milosevic, Karadzic’s long-time patron during the war, was on trial in The Hague until his death in 2006.