U.N. tribunal convicts Bosnian Serb general of genocide in Srebrenica massacre
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) – The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal handed down its first conviction for genocide, finding a Bosnian Serb general guilty Thursday for the deaths of up to 8,000 Muslims at the U.N.-protected enclave of Srebrenica.
The verdict and 46-year sentence for Gen. Radislav Krstic could be a harbinger of more genocide trials of those at the top of the command chain in the Balkan wars, including former Bosnian Serb leader Radislav Karadzic and his top general, Ratko Mladic. Both are fugitives.
The ruling could also provide a precedent for possible indictments against former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who faces lesser charges in the persecution of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
It was the first time that the U.N. court, established in 1993 to prosecute war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, convicted a suspect of genocide. The crime, introduced in international law in 1948 after the Nazi slaughter of 6 million Jews in World War II, refers to ”acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
The 255-page verdict recounted emotional scenes of family separations at Srebrenica in 1995, of bound and blindfolded victims slaughtered within sight of the bulldozers preparing their graves, of widows and children haunted by memories of their men, and of an operation to hide mutilated corpses. The judges admitted difficulty in remaining calm as they reviewed the gruesome evidence.
Watching live television coverage of the verdict in Bosnia, women from Srebrenica wept and held hands as the judge delivered the decision. They screamed in outrage at the sentence, saying it was too lenient.
”Let him go and come back among us. We will give him a verdict,” said Behara Hasanovic. ”For 10,000 of our sons, only 46 years! His people have ripped my son from my arms.”
The U.S. State Department said the judgment sends a strong message that genocide will not be tolerated. Spokesman Richard Boucher pledged continued U.S. support to ”all credible efforts to bring violators of the international humanitarian law to account.”
Krstic, 53, received the longest sentence yet passed by the tribunal, although it was less than the eight life terms sought by the prosecution.
He was also convicted of persecution and inhumane treatment for the forceable transfer of 30,000 refugees, mostly women and the elderly, who had sought protection at a Dutch-manned U.N. base in Potocari near Srebrenica.
Reading a summary of the judgment, Judge Almiro Rodrigues said even though Krstic may have received orders to execute the men and deport women and children, he bore responsibility for genocide.
”You were there, General Krstic,” Rodrigues said. ”You are guilty of the murder of thousands of Bosnians Muslims. … You are guilty of inflicting incredible suffering,” he said.
”In July 1995, General Krstic, you agreed to evil.”
Referring to Mladic and Karadzic, both of whom have been indicted on genocide charges for Srebrenica, Rodrigues said the order to kill thousands of innocent people had likely come from Krstic’s superiors.
”Someone else probably decided to order the execution of all the men of fighting age,” the judge said.
Rodrigues quoted from a directive issued by Karadzic in March 1995 ordering the creation of ”an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival or life for the inhabitants of Srebrenica and Zepa.”
In July 1995, some 15,000 troops under Krstic’s command launched an offensive on Srebrenica that cleared the region of non-Serb inhabitants. In a week of bloodshed, his soldiers rounded up thousands of men and teen-age boys and transported them to execution sites throughout eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In its summary, the tribunal said a deliberate decision had been made to kill all the men of Srebrenica after Serb forces seized the strategic town in eastern Bosnia, overrunning a Dutch U.N. garrison, and deported thousands of women, children and old people.
”The result was inevitable – the destruction of the Bosnian Muslim people in Srebrenica,” said the verdict.
”What was ethnic cleansing became genocide,” it said.
Defense attorney Nenad Petrusic said he was surprised by the judgment and that Krstic will appeal.
The Srebrenica killings were Europe’s worst civilian massacre since World War II. And the genocide verdict places the tragedy in the historical record much as the 1946 Nuremberg trials endure as an official condemnation of Nazi genocide.
Twenty-two Nazis were convicted in Nuremberg for crimes against humanity, but the term genocide only entered international law after the 1948 Genocide Convention, which took effect in 1951.
A German state court convicted a Bosnian Serb police chief, Djurdard Kusljic, of genocide in 1999 for ordering the shooting deaths of six Bosnian Muslims during the Bosnian war in 1992, and sentenced him to life in prison. He was convicted under German law; Krstic was convicted under international law.
A U.N. court in Tanzania has convicted eight people of genocide in the massacres of more than 500,000 people in Rwanda in 1994.
Milosevic is charged with crimes against humanity in Kosovo. Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has said she is drawing up a further indictment for the Bosnian war that may also include genocide charges.
On the Net:
Tribunal site, http://www.un.org/icty/
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