Karadzic sentenced to 40 years in prison for ethnic cleansing
Published 25/03/2016 | 02:30
Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was found guilty yesterday of orchestrating ethnic cleansing during the war in Bosnia in Europe's worst single act of slaughter since the Second World War.
The 70-year-old Bosnian Serb leader appeared in court in The Hague to hear judgments on 11 war crimes charges, including two counts of genocide. The judge sentenced him to 40 years in prison.
The verdicts against Karadzic make him the most senior of all the alleged Balkans war criminals to have been convicted.
Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who was accused of stirring the Balkans conflict as Yugoslavia crumbled in the 1990s, died in his cell while on remand in The Hague in 2006.
As commander-in-chief of Serb forces in Bosnia, Karadzic was accused of overseeing some of the worst atrocities of the war, which ran from 1992-95 and cost an estimated 100,000 lives.
It included the 44-month siege and bombardment of Sarajevo, and the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Bosnian men and boys in the Srebrenica enclave.
Two other key Serb suspects remain on trial, including Karadzic's military chief General Ratko Mladic, who was caught in 2011, and Serb ultranationalist Vojislav Seselj.
The trial is being closely watched in Bosnia, and the conviction is likely to lead to large-scale celebrations among the Muslim communities Karadzic's forces terrorised. A number of survivors of the Bosnian war were in court to watch the verdict.
Karadzic has been in the court's custody since 2008, having spent 12 years on the run in the Balkans after vanishing from the public eye in 1996.
During that time, investigators froze bank accounts of close relatives suspected of helping him hide, yet he remained at large, even publishing a book of poetry in Serbia.
It was long rumoured that he had benefited from the protection of the Serb intelligence agents - and possibly also the Serb Orthodox Church.
But on July 21, 2008, he was unexpectedly arrested on a Belgrade bus while posing as a New Age healer under the name of Dr Dragan Dabic, complete with long beard and ponytailed hair.
His New Age alter ego quickly deserted him by the time he appeared in the dock in The Hague 10 days later. Clean shaven and wearing a suit, he refused to enter pleas to the court, and has refused to recognise its authority ever since.
To this day, he protests his innocence, saying his wartime actions were intended to protect Serbs and stop the bloodshed getting any worse. In an interview by email earlier this week to news portal Balkan Insight, he said he was confident that the court would clear him.
"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 wrote.
A key part of the trial has involved the question of just how much Karadzic knew about the activities of the forces under his control. In 2014, Karadzic tried to get his fellow defendant Ratko Mladic to put him in the clear over Srebrenica, where Bosnian Serb forces under Mladic's command massacred some 7,000 Muslim men and boys.
Karadzic subpoenaed Mladic in the hope that he would confirm he had knowledge of the planning or carrying out of the Srebrenica operation, only for Mladic to evoke his right to silence. The scene of the two ageing defendants arguing it out in court had a blackly comic element to it, after Mladic complained that he could not speak properly as his false teeth had not been brought up from the cells.
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.
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.
Munira Subasic, whose son was among the victims of Srebrenica, said 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.
Just last weekend, Milorad Dodik, the current Bosnian Serb leader, officially opened a student dormitory named after Karadzic, and had Karadzic's daughter and wife unveil the plaque.