THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) – Following an appeal, a United Nations tribunal hiked the sentence of Radovan Karadzic, known as the Butcher of Bosnia, from 40 years to life Wednesday.
Munira Subasic, president of the group Mothers of Srebrenica told reporters “I think this verdict is historical for justice.”
Mothers of some of the 8,000 men and boys massacred in Srebrenica lined up in front of the courthouse ahead of the verdict and placed banners with photos of their loved ones. Following the reading of the verdict, a group of the women confronted Karadzic’s legal team as they gathered to answer questions from reporters.
In 1990, Karadzic founded the Serb Democratic Party with the aim of unifying the Bosnian Serbian community. Prior to his involvement in politics, Karadzic was trained as a psychiatrist. He went on to serve as the president of the Republic of Srpska from 1992 to 1996.
Republika Srpska is an autonomous entity within Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The region was previously part of Yugoslavia, a country created out of six republics by the Soviet Union following World War II. Josip Broz Tito managed to keep the country together through a dictatorship until he died in 1980, when fractures began to develop. One of the republics, Bosnia, pushed for independence in 1991, which was opposed by Karadzic.
Together with the leader of the military, Ratko Mladic, Karadzic pursued territory in other parts of the former Yugoslavia as well as a desire to eradicate Muslims and ethnic Bosniaks in the region. Mladic was sentenced to life in prison by the tribunal in 2017.
Known as the Butcher of Bosnia, Karadzic was convicted of ordering the Srebrenica massacre in which 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were rounded up and killed in the city of Srebrenica, despite the United Nations claiming the area was under U.N. protection. Karadzic was also convicted of orchestrating the siege of the capital city of Sarajevo, which lasted nearly four years – the longest in the history of modern warfare. Nearly 14,000 people died, including 5,400 civilians.
The U.N. tribunal indicted Karadzic in 1995 but he went into hiding. Authorities in Belgrade, Serbia, arrested him in 2008 after finding him living and working as a psychologist using an alias. He was extradited to the Netherlands and changed with 11 counts of war crimes before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Karadzic refused to enter a plea and insisted on representing himself, though eventually a lawyer was appointed for him by the court. After giving his lawyer time to prepare, the case resumed in 2010 with Karadzic still acting as his own counsel.
“The entire case against me is false,” Karadzic said during his closing arguments. “I really was a true friend to the Muslims.”
The case took four years to complete and the court deliberated another year before finding him guilty of 10 of the 11 charges in March 2016. Karadzic appealed the 40-year sentence later that year, and his case was reviewed over two days in 2018 by the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals.
On appeal, Karadzic’s legal team pointed to a litany of errors, 48 in total, ranging from misuse of evidence to not permitting Karadzic to represent himself at trial. Karadzic also claimed he was unaware a document he signed called for “unbearable situation with no hope of further survival” in Srebrenica and said he hadn’t read the document in question fully.
The prosecution also brought an appeal, arguing the trial court failed to take into account the sentences of other defendants related to the Balkans conflict. The tribunal rejected the majority of Karadzic’s arguments, but agreed the 40-year sentence should be extended to life.
Karadzic remained stoic during the reading of the verdict, mostly staring down at the table in front of him. Presiding Judge Vagn Joensen at one point lost his place during the reading and another judge had to give him a fresh copy of the verdict before he could resume.
Reading, Joensen called the case “the largest and greatest set of crimes ever attributed to a single person before the court.”
The judge then asked Karadzic – who was flanked by two guards – to stand for the reading of the new verdict. A cheer went up in the courtroom when the judge handed down the new sentence of life, and Karadzic was remanded to custody immediately.
The U.N. set up the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in 1993 to deal with the war crimes that took place during the conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s. Over the course of its 14-year history, the tribunal indicted 161 people, of which 90 were convicted and sentenced.
The court was closed in 2017, and appeals put forth after its closing have been overseen by the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals.