Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was found guilty of genocide on Thursday over the Srebrenica massacre and crimes against humanity committed during the 1990s war in the former Yugoslavia.
United Nations judges at the international tribunal in The Hague said Karadzic was guilty of 10 of the 11 counts brought against him during the five-year trial, and he was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Karadzic, 70, is the highest-ranking person to face a reckoning before the UN tribunal over a war two decades ago in which 100,000 people were killed as rival armies carved up Bosnia along ethnic lines.
Presiding Judge O-Gon Kwon said Karadzic was criminally responsible for extermination, murder, attacking civilians, and terror for overseeing the deadly 44-month siege of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, during the 1992-95 war.
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Karadzic used a campaign of sniping and shelling, targeting the city’s civilians as a way of furthering his political goals, Kwon said.
Karadzic’s lawyer, Peter Robinson, said his client was “astonished” by the ruling.
“President Karadzic was disappointed. He doesn’t feel he is legally responsible for any crimes. Nobody has really won from today’s judgment,” Robinson said.
Karadzic will appeal against the convictions, a process that could take up to three years, he said.
Satko Mujagic, a former prisoner held by Serb forces for more than 200 days, told Al Jazeera that Karadzic was responsible for “ethnic cleansing and blood”.
“I’m very glad that this man finally got what he deserved,” he said.
Mujagic said the verdict should also have a broader effect on Bosnia’s Serbs, Muslims, and Croats.
“Honestly, I hope this sentence will mean something for people in Bosnia, because many people deny what has happened – people deny war crimes. I hope this means something for reconciliation in the country,” Mujagic said.
About 100 survivors gathered outside the UN tribunal as judges inside read out verdicts on some of the worst atrocities committed in Europe since World War II.
One banner read: “Srebrenica, we remember the 8,372 victims of genocide.”
Karadzic had long been accused of orchestrating the 1995 slaughter after Serb forces seized the UN’s Srebrenica “safe area” in eastern Bosnia.
Al Jazeera’s Emma Hayward, reporting from The Hague, said the pain of some survivors hadn’t gone away, but added that there was a sense of relief among the families and victims after the verdict.
“When we heard about Srebrenica, we heard about the Muslim men and boys who were taken away from their families and systematically killed,” said Hayward.
Some Bosnians outside the tribunal denounced the 40-year sentence saying it was grossly inadequate for the mass crimes committed.
“For me as a victim of genocide, I’m afraid this is some political game,” said Munira Subasic. “But I still believe in this court’s prosecutors, probably they’ll prepare more evidence for the appeals process so we hope to be satisfied at the very end.”
Karadzic was also acquitted on another genocide charge relating to events in 1992, a move that angered some Bosnians.
“Genocide didn’t only happen in Srebrenica but across all of Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as persecution, suffering and everything we lived through,” said Zumra Sehumirovic outside the court.
A psychiatrist by vocation, Karadzic emerged as the Bosnian Serb political leader shortly before Yugoslavia began disintegrating in a series of wars in 1991. His military chief, general Ratko Mladic, is still on trial on similar charges.
Karadzic protested his innocence in a rare interview published by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network on Wednesday.
“I know what I wanted, what I did, even what I dreamed of, and there is no reasonable court that would convict me,” he told the website in an email interview.
Bosnian Serbs, however, view him as a national hero who created a Serb Republic – a state within a state, which survived under the 1995 Dayton peace agreement.
Such sentiments are widely shared across the border in Serbia.
Some residents of Belgrade criticised Thursday’s verdict. “This is a fascist decision, there is no justice and he was convicted for nothing,” said Bosko Solic.
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