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UN court ups Karadzic sentence to life for Bosnia genocide

Radovan Karadzic.
Radovan Karadzic. REUTERS/Michael Kooren

UN judges have ordered former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic to spend the rest of his life in jail for the "sheer scale and systematic cruelty" of his crimes. The panel in The Hague rejected his appeal and upheld its conviction for genocide and war crimes.


Karadzic, 73, stood motionless and grim-faced in the dock as judges said they would increase his original 40-year sentence.

"There is still a sense of international justice," says Muhammed Durakovic, a survivor of the Screbrenica massacre in 1995 that was carried out under the orders of Karadzic and his henchmen. I was very pessimistic before this trial."

Radavan Karadic has been on the run for a very long time, and this has been very frustrating for the victims

Radovan Karadzic interview with Srebrenica survivor Muhammed Durakovic

In an interview before the trial he had told RFI that he was worried that Karadzic "would get away with a shorter sentence."

The panel of judges in The Hague "imposes a sentence of life imprisonment" after rejecting Karadzic's appeal against his conviction for atrocities including the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, head judge Vagn Joensen said.

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 sale and systematic cruelty", Joensen said.

Prosecutors had appealed for Karadzic's sentence to be increased.

They rejected Karadzic's claims that he did not know a military directive he drafted and signed on the fate of Srebrenica called for Bosnian Serb forces to create an "unbearable situation with no hope of further survival' for inhabitants.


In 2016, Karadzic was found guilty on 10 counts including orchestrating a nearly four-year siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, where more than 10,000 people died in a campaign of sniping and shelling, according to prosecutors.

He was also found guilty of genocide in the eastern Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica, where Bosnian Serb troops slaughtered more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys in eastern Bosnia, which was supposed to be under UN protection, and buried their bodies in mass graves.

The trial was followed by representatives of the “Mothers of Srebrenica,” a group of survivors and relatives of survivors of the massacres who had travelled to The Hague to attend the trial and broadcast directly to the Srebrenica memorial centre in Potocari.

Muhammed Durakovic, the survivor, says he still lives with the memories of what happened. “Every one of the survivors wakes up every morning, they go to bed every evening with the images. Our whole life has been split between before the war in Bosnia and after. It is something that we have to live with,” he says.

Long overdue

The trial of Karadzic, in spite of its outcome on Wednesday “was long overdue,” he says.

“Radavan Karadzic has been on the run for a very long time, and this has been very frustrating for the victims. And after he was captured his trial took a very long time.

Over the years the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague indicted 161 people indicted, 90 of them have been sentenced, including general Ratko Mladic, the local warlord who was convicted of crimes against humanity and also sentenced to life.

Krivaja 95

“There are thousands of people who are walking freely who have taken part in operations code named ‘Krivaja 95,” says Duracovic, referring to a directive given by Radovan Karadzic.

It authorised “planned and well-thought out combat operations” to “create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival or life for the inhabitants of Srebrenica and Zepa", two UN-protected enclaves.

This eventually led to the separation of women and children from men who were massacred, their bodies disposed of in the fields and woods outside the enclaves.

“Unfortunately the international war crimes tribunal has been focusing only on the key perpetrators of these crimes, the decision makers on a higher level. Everything else has been transferred to the local courts.

Bosnia-Herzegovina is a very “complicated state,” says Duracovic, in which if anything has to be done, all parties involved – Bosnians, Serbs and Croats – must agree.

“It is not in the interest of some of these politicians to actually support these courts," Duracovic continues. "They have been undecided for a very long time, and didn’t do anything in terms of prosecuting lower-level perpetrators."

In the doomed enclaves and surrounding areas, Bosniaks and Serbs are now trying to live together, their relations overshadowed by the past.

Living together

“If you go to Srebrenica, you’ll be surprised to see that there is not one single café or restaurant which is a uniquely 'Serb café' or 'Bosniak restaurant'.

“People are still living together, as indeed they have been living together for centuries. The pre-war relationship has continued in most cases.

Except in the cases where it is known that people took part in the massacres.

“They are being recognised by living family members of those who were killed. But apart from these kinds of cases, people continue as they used to."

However, Duracovic expresses concern that “especially on the Serb side” (the Serbian dominated counties within Bosnia Herzegovina, mainly in the semi-autonomous “Republika Srpska”), politicians “are continuing the policy of Radovan Karadzic of ethnic segregation and separations.

They are discouraging everybody, especially on the Serb side to actually go down to the Bosnian regions and commemorate victims of the genocide or to recognise the genocide,” he says.

But the outcome of Wednesday’s trial leaves Duracovic with a glimmer of hope.

“It is a big relief," he says. "Many were very concerned because the policy of releasing people after serving two thirds of their sentence has become common practice."

This means people who were condemned to thirty years are now showing up in their streets and the places where they committed their crimes.

“At least there is some sort of comfort in knowing that Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic will not go back to their community,” he says.

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