A UN war crimes tribunal has sentenced former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic to 40 years in jail after finding him guilty of ten of the 11 charges against him. The sentence issued on March 24 includes the time Karadzic has already spent in custody since 2008.
This is effectively a life sentence for 70-year-old Karadzic, who was found guilty of genocide, as well as five counts of crimes against humanity and four counts of violations of the laws or customs of war. Several of the charges were related to the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre, Europe's worst atrocity since World War Two.
Karadzic pleaded not guilty to all the charges and represented himself with the help of a team of legal advisers.
During the reading of the sentence, presiding judge O-Gon Kwon said that Karadzic was “responsible for crimes against humanity” and war crimes.
Karadzic was acquitted by the tribunal of a broader charge of genocide in connection with Bosnian municipalities. However, the tribunal ruled that Karadzic was guilty of genocide in Srebrenica.
The Srebrenica killings were conducted under the command of Karadzic's military chief, General Ratko Mladic, whose trial, also on charges of genocide, is still in progress at The Hague. Over 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed and 25,000 women and children were deported from the UN-designated ‘safe area’ of Srebrenica.
The UN judges also found Karadzic criminally responsible for the siege of Sarajevo. Kwon said the three-year Sarajevo siege, during which the city of Serbs, Muslims and Croats was shelled and targeted by Bosnian Serb snipers, could not have happened without Karadzic's support.
The former psychiatrist is widely seen as the mastermind behind the Bosnian Serb campaign of ethnic cleansing that forced two million people from their homes and led to thousands being held in detention camps, where many were tortured or raped.
The Bosnian war broke out after Bosniaks and Croats voted for independence from the former Yugoslav federation in a 1992 referendum boycotted by Serbs, which wanted to stay part of former Yugoslavia.
Between 1992 and 1996, Karadzic was the first president of the self-declared Republika Srpska and supreme commander of its armed forces during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, in which 100,000 people were killed. Under Karadzic's leadership, Serbs occupied 70% of the country, killing and persecuting Muslims and Croats.
In 1996, Karadzic was ousted from his position and lived for 11 years as a fugitive. He was arrested in Belgrade, where he had lived openly, disguised as a white-bearded New Age healer, in July 2008 and extradited to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
Karadzic was initially indicted in 1995, the year that marked the end of Bosnian war with the signing of Dayton peace agreement. His trial began in October, 2009, and lasted five years. The trial of Karadzic, called by Western media ”the Butcher of Bosnia”, lasted 497 days and involved 586 witnesses, while prosecutors entered three million pages of evidence.
The Hague tribunal has already convicted 14 people for the massacres. Three were given life sentences - two former officers from the Bosnian Serb Army’s main headquarters, Zdravko Tolimir and Ljubisa Beara, as well as former Bosnian Serb Army Drina Corps security officer Vujadin Popovic.
However, many people in Republika Srpska, which is Bosnia & Herzegovina’s smaller entity, believe that Karadzic was innocent. The entity’s current president Milorad Dodik has many times stated that Karadzic did not order any crimes and claims that the Srebrenica massacre was not genocide.