THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was convicted Thursday of genocide and nine other charges by a United Nations war crimes tribunal and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
The U.N. court found Karadzic guilty of orchestrating Serb atrocities throughout Bosnia’s 1992-95 war that left 100,000 people dead.
As he sat down after hearing his sentence, Karadzic slumped slightly in his chair but showed little emotion. He plans to appeal the convictions.
The U.N. court found Karadzic guilty of genocide in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in which 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered in Europe’s worst mass murder since the Holocaust.
Presiding Judge O-Gon Kwon said Karadzic was the only person in the Bosnian Serb leadership with the power to halt the genocide but instead gave an order for prisoners to be transported from one location to another to be killed.
In a carefully planned operation, Serb forces transported Muslim men to sites around the Srebrenica enclave in eastern Bosnia and gunned them down before dumping their bodies into mass graves. Kwon said Karadzic and his military commander, Gen. Ratko Mladic, intended “that every able-bodied Bosnian Muslim male from Srebrenica be killed.”
Karadzic also was held criminally responsible for murder, attacking civilians and terror for overseeing the deadly 44-month siege of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, during the war and for taking hostage U.N. peacekeepers.
But the court didn’t hold Karadzic responsible for a second genocide charge, over a campaign to drive Bosnian Muslims and Croats out of villages claimed by Serb forces.
Karadzic — a psychiatrist and poet who became the leader of the Serbian resistance in Bosnia — had faced a total of 11 charges and a maximum possible sentence of life in prison, which prosecutors had urged be his punishment.
But the court’s chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, said 40 years amounted to the same thing for the 70-year-old Karadzic.
“Overall, we are satisfied with the outcome,” Brammertz said.
He said prosecutors would carefully study the judgment before deciding whether to appeal the one genocide acquittal.
Peter Robinson, who is one of Karadzic’s legal advisers, said Karadzic was shocked to have been found guilty and plans to appeal.
“Dr. Karadzic is disappointed. He’s astonished,” Robinson told reporters. “He feels the trial chamber took inference instead of evidence in reaching the conclusions that it did.”
The announcement of the verdict and sentence were widely watched on TV. In Sarajevo, Amra Misic, 49, said: “I took a day off to watch the verdict, as I was waiting for this for 20 years. I wish him a long life.”
Prosecutors held Karadzic responsible as a political leader and commander-in-chief of Serb forces in Bosnia, which are blamed for the worst atrocities of the war.
The 70-year-old Karadzic insisted he was innocent, claimed he was “a man of peace” and said his wartime actions were intended to protect Serbs.
The trial is hugely significant for the U.N. tribunal and for the development of international law. Karadzic is the most senior Bosnian Serb leader to face prosecution at the court, which is housed in a former insurance company headquarters in The Hague.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s deputy spokesman, Fanhan Haq, told reporters the judgment “sends a strong signal to all who are in positions of responsibility that they will be held accountable for their actions and shows once again that fugitives cannot outrun the international community’s collective resolve to make sure that they face justice according to the law.”
Natasa Kandic, 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.
“This ruling is an obstacle for revisions of history, for what has really happened” in Bosnia during the war, Kandic said. “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 said, “It would have been more logical that he received the life sentence, but this one is more or less the same.”
Karadzic’s conviction will most likely strengthen international jurisprudence on the criminal responsibility of political leaders for atrocities committed by forces under their control.
Param-Preet Singh, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch, said of Thursday’s verdict and sentencing: “Victims and their families have waited for over two decades to see Karadzic’s day of reckoning. The Karadzic verdict sends a powerful signal that those who order atrocities cannot simply wait out justice.”
In Bosnia, which has remained divided since the war, posters displaying Karadzic’s photo and saying “We are all Radovan” were plastered on walls in several towns in the Serb part of the country. Dozens of people gathered in a park in the Bosnian Serb town of Doboj to offer support to Karadzic.
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.
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.
Born in 1945 into a poor family in Savnik, Yugoslavia, Karadzic moved to Sarajevo in 1960 to study medicine. By 1971, he was practicing psychiatry in the ethnically mixed Bosnian capital, writing poetry and a children’s book.
In 1985, he was tried for embezzlement of public property while building a family house and served 11 months in jail.
But by 1990, with nationalism on the rise, Karadzic shifted his focus to politics, forming the Serb Democratic Party that led to his election to parliament in the first democratic elections after the fall of communism the same year.
As the Yugoslav republics were breaking away one by one, first Slovenia, then Croatia, Karadzic warned non-Serbs in Bosnia not to declare independence from Serb dominated Yugoslavia, telling them clearly what would happen if they did.
“Do not think that you will not lead Bosnia and Herzegovina into hell, and do not think that you will not perhaps lead the Muslim people into annihilation because the Muslims cannot defend themselves if there is war,” he said in October 1991.
Karadzic, who saw himself as a historic figure who would unify all Serbs in a common country, led the Serb resistance to the majority vote for Bosnia’s independence in 1992 and declared himself the leader of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnian Serbs armed and backed by the Yugoslav Army conquered 70 percent of the country, laying siege to its capital and killing and expelling non-Serbs from the territory they controlled.
The conflict cliamed more than 100,000 lives and forced over two million people from their homes.
In July 1995, his troops overran the town of Srebrenica and killed more than 8,000 men and boys in the worst massacre in Europe since the Nazi era.
Karadzic was indicted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in 1995, one of the 11 counts relates to genocide in Srebrenica. He went into hiding and evaded arrest for 13 years before he was caught in Belgrade, Serbia, in 2008, where he hid masked as a New Age healer. He made himself unrecognizable growing a thick beard and long, grey hair.
Key dates in the life of Radovan Karadzic
June 19, 1945: Born in Savnik, Yugoslavia, in what is now the Republic of Montenegro.
July 12, 1990: Becomes a founding member of the Serbian Democratic Party in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
March 27, 1992: Becomes president of Serbia’s National Security Council.
April 6, 1992: Bosnia is recognized as an independent state by the United Nations.
May 12, 1992: Elected president of the three-person presidency of the Serbian republic in Bosnia.
Dec. 17, 1992-July 19, 1996: Serves as sole president of Serb Republic in Bosnia. He is also supreme commander of the armed forces.
July 1, 1991-Nov. 30, 1995: According to his U.N. indictment, Karadzic participates in war crimes to gain control of parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina that have been proclaimed part of the Serb Republic, using terror tactics and a campaign of persecution and deportations.
April 1, 1992-November 30, 1995: Bosnian Serb forces engaged in a 44-month siege of Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital.
July 11-18, 1995: Bosnian Serb forces killed thousands of Bosnian Muslim men and boys in and around the town of Srebrenica.
1996: Karadzic vanishes from the public eye.
2003: Bosnia’s top international official freezes bank accounts and other assets of Karadzic’s close relatives who are suspected of helping him hide.
July 2005: Karadzic’s wife makes public appeal for him to surrender “for the sake of your family.”
2005: Karadzic publishes a book of poetry in Serbia, titled “Under The Left Breast Of The Century.” A spokeswoman in The Hague expresses outrage that he is free to do so.
July 21, 2008: Karadzic is arrested on a Belgrade bus while posing as New Age healer Dr. Dragan Dabic and disguised by a thick beard and shaggy hair.
July 30, 2008: Karadzic is flown to International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia’s detention block.
July 31, 2008: A clean-shaven Karadzic makes first appearance in tribunal courtroom, refuses to enter pleas.
Oct. 26, 2009: Karadzic trial starts, but he boycotts the hearing.
Oct. 7, 2014: Final day of trial. Judges begin lengthy deliberations.
March 24, 2016: Judges deliver verdicts.