THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was convicted of genocide and nine other charges Thursday at a U.N. 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 U.N. 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.
Branded the “Butcher of Bosnia,” he 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 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.
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 Of them, 80 were convicted and sentenced, 18 acquitted, 13 sent back to local courts and 36 had the indictments withdrawn or died.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.
Karadzic defended himself through his 497-day trial and called 248 witnesses, poring over many of the millions of pages of evidence with the help of a court-appointed legal adviser.
In an interview ahead of the verdict, Karadzic said that he had worked to uphold peace and deserved praise, not punishment.
“My permanent fight to preserve the peace, prevent the war and decrease the sufferings of everyone regardless of religion were an exemplary effort deserving respect rather than persecution,” he told news portal Balkan Insight.
Munira Subasic, whose son was among the victims of Srebrenica, told Reuters that the verdict was “very important to show new generations, especially those in Serbia who have been poisoned with hatred already, what really happened in Bosnia.”
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.