BOSNIAN Serb found guilty of genocide; first genocide conviction in Europe since WWII

Thursday, August 2nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ The U.N. war crimes tribunal found a Bosnian Serb general guilty of genocide Thursday for the killing of up to 8,000 Muslims at the U.N.-protected enclave of Srebrenica in 1995. It was the first genocide conviction in Europe since World War II.

Gen. Radislav Krstic was sentenced to 46 years in prison.

The court ruled that even though Krstic may have received orders from others to carry out mass executions of men and deportations of women and children, he bore responsibility for genocide.

``You were there, General Krstic,'' said Judge Rodrigues. ``You were guilty of the murder of thousands of Bosnian Muslims. ... In July 1995, General Krstic, you agreed to evil. This is why the trial chamber convicts you today and sentences you to 46 years in prison.''

The sentence was the longest delivered yet by the tribunal in any of the convictions it has handed down for the Balkan wars. But it fell short of the eight consecutive life sentences sought by the prosecution.

Weeping and holding hands while watching the U.N. court session on television in Bosnia-Herzegovina, women from Srebrenica screamed in outrage at the verdict Thursday, furious at a sentence that they saw as being 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 Srebrenica killings were Europe's worst civilian massacre since the persecution of Jews during World War II. It was the first time the U.N. tribunal has ruled that genocide was committed in the Bosnian war.

The genocide verdict etches the tragedy in the historical record much in the way the 1946 Nuremberg trials endure as an official condemnation of Nazi genocide in World War II. It could also act as a touchstone for further war crimes prosecutions.

Krstic, who is in his early 50s, sat grim-faced, his eyes growing wider during the more gruesome elements of the verdict. When it came time to hear the sentence, he was allowed to remain seated because of pain from his amputated leg.

Krstic had denied responsibility for the deaths and deportations, saying his superior officer, Gen. Ratko Mladic, had given the orders. But the tribunal ruled that Krstic, the most senior officer brought to trial so far, knew massacres were taking place. Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, then the Bosnian Serb political leader, have been indicted but remain at large.

The court ruled that the Serbian forces killed up to 8,000 Bosnian Muslims of fighting age after expelling all the women, children and old people from Srebrenica.

They must have known that the combined action of killing and expulsion would lead to the destruction of the Muslim population, and therefore constituted genocide, the judgment said.

The tribunal's statutes defines genocide as ``acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.'' Those acts include murder, inflicting living conditions designed to eliminate a group, preventing births or transferring children from one group to another.

The U.N. tribunal for Rwanda, based in Arusha, Tanzania, has convicted eight people for genocide _ the court's harshest crime _ and handed down sentences of up to life imprisonment. But the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia _ the same court trying former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic _ had yet to hand down a genocide conviction.

Krstic, the highest-ranking Bosnian Serb military officer tried by the court, was charged with superior authority for planning and implementing a policy of persecution and murder that virtually wiped out the entire non-Serb population in the predominantly Muslim enclave of Srebrenica in southeastern Bosnia.

In July 1995, Serb forces attacked the U.N.-declared ``safe haven'' where about 30,000 Muslims had sought refuge from the Serb onslaught at a Dutch-manned U.N. base.

Exhumations of mass graves conducted by investigators in Bosnia, some as recent as last month, have revealed the bodies of more than 4,000 victims.

Women and children were separated from the males, who were loaded onto buses and taken to collection stations throughout the region.

Dozens of survivors testified about what became known as the killing fields of Srebrenica. Several witnesses told how they lay in a field of bleeding corpses for hours as Serb soldiers discharged round after round of automatic weapon fire into columns of prisoners.

``The result was inevitable _ the destruction of the Bosnian Muslim people in Srebrenica,'' said the verdict.

``What was ethnic cleansing became genocide,'' it said.

The Yugoslav court was established in 1993 to punish those responsible for atrocities during the break up of Yugoslavia after the start of war in 1991.

The Krstic trial began in March 2000, and summations were heard last June. The trial heard 102 prosecution and 12 defense witnesses during 94 sessions, but was delayed frequently because of Krstic's health problems. His leg was amputated during the war.