Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic will spend the rest of his life in jail for the “sheer scale and systematic cruelty” of his crimes in the war that tore his country apart a quarter of a century ago, UN judges said on Wednesday.
Grim-faced and silent, the 73-year-old stood in the dock as judges in The Hague said they had upheld his 2016 convictions for genocide in the Srebrenica massacre and war crimes throughout the 1990s.
In one of the last remaining cases from the break-up of Yugoslavia, the tribunal also increased his original 40-year sentence, saying it did was too light for his role in the worst bloodshed in Europe since World War II.
Bereaved family members stood up as one and applauded and cheered in the public gallery of the court after the verdict, which is final.
Judges at the original trial “underestimated the extreme gravity of Karadzic’s responsibility for the most grave crimes committed during the period of conflict, noted for their sheer scale and systematic cruelty”, head judge Vagn Joensen said.
“Karadzic’s contention that he was a psychiatrist and poet with no military training ignores his extensive authority over Bosnian military forces.”
The panel of appeals judges therefore “imposes a sentence of life imprisonment”, he said.
Relatives of victims had called for a life sentence for the man who, along with his military right-hand man Ratko Mladic and late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, was one of the main architects of the carnage in the Balkans.
“My soul now is satisfied,” Emma Cekic, 62, whose husband Salih and many cousins were killed near Sarajevo, told reporters outside the court.
‘No meaning for him’
Around 100,000 people died and 2.2 million others left homeless in the three-year war, during which prosecutors said Karadzic wanted to “permanently remove Muslims and Croats” from territory claimed by Bosnian Serbs.
Karadzic had appealed his convictions for orchestrating a brutal siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo in which more than 10,000 people died.
He was also found guilty of genocide in Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia, where Bosnian Serb troops slaughtered more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys who were meant to be under UN protection, and buried them in mass graves.
In a sign of the fierce passions the case still raises, relatives chased and shouted down Karadzic’s lawyer Peter Robinson outside the court.
“Life is no different than 40 years because he would be 103 when he serves his 40 years’ sentence. So it has no meaning for him,” Robinson told reporters.
Prosecutor Serge Brammetz however said the verdict should show even Karadzic’s supporters in Bosnia — where Bosnian Serbs have honoured him with a university dorm in his name — that he is not a hero.
“This trial has proven the opposite. Karadzic will be remembered by history as a war criminal responsible for horrific human suffering,” Brammertz told reporters.
‘No hope of survival’
Karadzic was arrested in 2008 in Belgrade after nearly 13 years on the run during which he posed as a new age healer called Dragan Dabic.
Bespectacled and with his trademark mane of white hair swept back from his face, Karadzic said nothing as the verdict was read out, but shortly afterwards looked to the public gallery and gave a small smile.
Appeals judges repeatedly dismissed Karadzic’s claims that he was not aware of orders by Bosnian Serb forces to eliminate Muslims in Srebrenica, and to indiscriminately target civilians in Sarajevo.
Families of the victims of Srebrenica were watching the verdict at the Women of Srebrenica association building in the Bosnian town of Tuzla.
At the centre, Hajrija Oric, 63, showed AFP photos of her son 17-year-old son Elvir and husband Sahin who were both killed in the massacre.
Their remains were found years later and buried.
“All I found was a handful of bones and head. I would give everything, I would give my eyes if I could bring them back but it cannot happen,” she said.
The EU and US both hailed the verdict as crucial for reconciliation in a region that Europe is trying to bring under its wing, and away from Russian influence.
“The EU expects all leaders in the region to support the decisions of the international tribunals,” the EU said.
Ex-military chief Mladic, 76, dubbed the “Butcher of Bosnia”, is currently appealing a life sentence on similar charges in The Hague.
Milosevic, Karadzic’s long-time patron during the war, was on trial in The Hague until his death in 2006.