Thursday 29 September 2016

Death camps, genocide and mass rapes - yet many Serbs defend him

Elsa Vulliamy in The Hague

Published 25/03/2016 | 02:30

A Bosnian Muslim woman cries during a mass funeral for victims of the Srebrenica massacre in in Potocari, Bosnia on July 11, 2005
A Bosnian Muslim woman cries during a mass funeral for victims of the Srebrenica massacre in in Potocari, Bosnia on July 11, 2005
Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic awaiting his verdict in the Hague yesterday
Radovan Karadzic with Ratko Mladic in 1995

Radovan Karadzic first appeared before the UN war crimes tribunal in 2008, following his arrest.

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He became president of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Republika Srpska) in 1992, one month after the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from the former Yugoslavia following a referendum that was boycotted by most Bosnian Serbs.

Disagreement from the Bosnian Serbs led to a genocide, in which an estimated 100,000 Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats were killed, with others subjected to terror tactics including rape as an instrument of war.

He was arrested in 2008, after going into hiding for more than a decade, for his involvement in several joint criminal enterprises, including participating in an attempt to "eliminate" Bosnian Muslims in the town of Srebrenica by killing more than 8,000 people, and forcibly removing others.

He is also allegedly complicit in the detention of thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats in detention facilities, including the Omarska and Trnopolje camps, "under conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction".

The former president is also held responsible for the 44-day siege of the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo which resulted in the killing of more than 10,000 people including 1,500 children.

The Srebrenica massacre, the genocidal killing of over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims by the Bosnian Serb Army of Republika Srpska, occurred in July 1995 during the Bosnian War.

Thousands of Bosnian Muslims were systematically murdered in the town of Srebrenica in an ethnic cleansing operation by the Serb forces.

Others were forced out of the territory, with over 20,000 being forcibly removed using terror tactics, including the rape of women and girls by Bosnian Serb soldiers.

Tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats were held in detention centres during the war, including death camps, predominantly inhabited by men, and rape camps, where women were subject to sexual enslavement.

Thousands of camp inmates were killed, while others were starved, beaten and tortured.

Serbia's president Tomislav Nikolic yesterday pledged support to the Serb mini-state in Bosnia, warning that its future may be brought into question after Karadzic was convicted of genocide.

Mr Nikolic said that "this verdict cannot and must not affect the fate of Republika Srpska" - the Serb entity in Bosnia.

He said that Serbia will "use its right ... to support Republika Srpska and help it survive."

Some residents of Belgrade have criticised the sentencing of Karadzic, reflecting widespread mistrust in the UN war crimes tribunal

Retiree Bosko Solic declared that "this is a fascist decision!" He added that "there is no justice and he was convicted for nothing".

Solic said defiantly that Karadzic is "not guilty" and is a "just man".

Another retiree, Djordje Katic, said he was "not surprised" that Karadzic had been convicted by the tribunal. Katic insisted that the court "could sentence him to as many years (in prison) as they wished. What else can I say?"

Most Serbs view The Hague as biased against Serbs.

But last night, a Serbian human rights expert said the genocide verdict against Karadzic is a landmark because it will no longer allow for new interpretations of wartime events during the worst carnage in Europe since World War II.

Obstacle

Natasa Kandic said "this ruling is an obstacle for revisions of history, for what has really happened" in Bosnia during the war.

She says: "This is the most important verdict. He was the supreme commander. He was convicted for acts he knew about. It is justice for both the victims and Karadzic himself."

Kandic says that instead of the 40-year prison sentence, "it would have been more logical that he received the life sentence, but this one is more or less the same".

The UN's top human rights official said the conviction was "hugely significant" and should warn other leaders against seeking to scapegoat minorities. Zeid Raad al-Hussein said that "this historic verdict should be a turning-point."

He added that "it is time now to ensure that his poisonous legacy does not continue to burden the people of the former Yugoslavia with deeply-felt grievances, secrecy and lies."

One of Karadzic's legal advisers said he will file an appeal. (© Independent News Service)

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