A UN tribunal has sentenced former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic to 40 years in prison after convicting him of genocide and other crimes committed during Bosnia's 1992-95 civil war.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague ruled March 24 that Karadzic is guilty of genocide over the deaths of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995.
Presiding Judge O-Gon Kwon said that Karadzic ordered the takeover of Srebrenica before the massacre and intended to eliminate the Bosnian Muslim males of the town.
As supreme commander of the Bosnian Serb Republic, Karadzic controlled the forces that committed the Srebrenica massacre after Bosnian Serbs seized the UN-declared safe haven from peacekeepers.
The war crimes tribunal also ruled that Karadzic is guilty of crimes against humanity — including murder, extermination, and forcible transfer — for a campaign to drive Bosnian Muslims and Croats out of towns and villages claimed by Bosnian Serb forces.
But the court stopped short of convicting him of genocide for his role in that campaign.
The judge also ruled that Karadzic is criminally responsible for murder, attacking civilians, and terror for overseeing the 44-month siege of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo.
Kwon said Karadzic used a campaign of sniping and shelling targeting the city's civilians as a way of furthering his political goals.
Reacting to the verdict, many people in Sarajevo voiced disappointment that Karadzic did not receive a life sentence, RFE/RL's Balkan Service reported.
Several other Bosnian Serbs involved in the war have been sentenced to life in prison by the ICTY for their roles in the Srebrenica massacre and other crimes.
In total, Karadzic was found guilty of 10 out of 11 charges.
His legal adviser said Karadzic was “disappointed and astonished” at the verdict and plans to appeal.
“He feels that he was convicted on inference instead of evidence and will appeal the judgment,” Peter Robinson told journalists outside the tribunal.
Throughout his 497-day trial, Karadzic, who is 70 and in good health, insisted he is innocent.
The former wartime Bosnian Serb leader was arrested near Belgrade in 2008 after 11 years on the run.
Dozens of relatives of Srebrenica victims traveled to The Hague for the trial's final day.
Karadzic is the highest-ranking person to face a reckoning before the tribunal over the war two decades ago in which 100,000 people were killed as rival armies carved up Bosnia along ethnic lines that largely survive today.
The only more senior official to face justice before the ICTY was the late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who died in custody a decade ago before a verdict was reached.
Ratko Mladic, the general who commanded Bosnian Serb forces, is the last suspect to be detained over the Srebrenica massacre and is in a UN prison cell awaiting judgment.
Karadzic, a former psychiatrist and a self-styled poet, rose to power on a Serb nationalist platform during the breakup of Yugoslavia and played a seminal role in instigating the Bosnian civil war.
Journalists who followed his early career say he used the skills he acquired as a professional psychiatrist to help convince Bosnian Serbs that they should break with the newly declared state of Bosnia and unify with Serbia instead.
“It shouldn't be forgotten that Karadzic was a psychiatrist and one of his specialties was social psychology,” recalled RFE/RL Balkan Service journalist Gordana Knezevic, who at the time was an editor of the Sarajevo daily newspaper Oslobodjenje. “It was always clear to me that he was using some of his knowledge about the behavior of social groups and how to appeal to them.”
She said his message of nationalism won him support partly because it broke so uncompromisingly with the former Yugoslav state policy of cooperation between ethnic groups.
“He came at [an opportune]moment, at the time when nationalism was high, and spoke in clear, simple, nationalistic messages, saying things that were forbidden,” Knezevic said. “In the former Yugoslavia, you could say anything but you could not say bad things about other national groups — and all of a sudden there was somebody who was not politically correct and so everybody would listen to him.”
Elected head of the self-declared Bosnian Serb Republic in 1992, Karadzic engaged in a campaign of territorial expansion that was marked by brutal treatment of Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat civilian populations, including mass killings, rapes, and forced expulsions.
The Srebrenica massacre and other horrors committed during the war helped turned world opinion against the Bosnian Serbs, leading to NATO air strikes that brought the conflict to an end.
Karadzic denied during his trial that there was systematic ethnic cleansing of the territory under his control during the war. He also blamed Bosnian Muslims for much of the violence against civilians that marked the war on all sides.
He told the court in October that “I know of no one in the Serb leadership who wanted to harm Muslims or Croats.”