Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić sits in the court of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia in the Hague, the Netherlands. Picture: REUTERS
Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić sits in the court of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia in the Hague, the Netherlands. Picture: REUTERS

Belgrade/The Hague — The UN tribunal for atrocities committed during the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia has confirmed convictions of genocide and war crimes against Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić and has extended his initial sentence to life in prison.

Vagn Joensen, the presiding judge of the Appeals Chamber in the Hague, the Netherlands, said an earlier prison term of 40 years handed down in 2016 “inadequately reflected” the gravity of the crimes. In that trial, Karadžić was found guilty of genocide and nine other counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his actions in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The court upheld convictions that included his role in the death of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica, Europe’s worst mass murder since the Holocaust. He was also convicted for the forced deportation of people, taking hostages and for staging the 44-month siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo.

Karadžić, one of the tribunal’s most high-profile targets along with his military commander Ratko Mladić and the late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milošević, appealed the initial verdict, along with prosecutors. He sought to overturn it, while the prosecutors demanded a life sentence and guilty verdict on more counts for which he was acquitted.

Violent breakup

The bloody disintegration of Yugoslavia — Europe’s most violent conflict since the Second World War — killed more than 100,000 people in Bosnia, the former federation’s most ethnically diverse state. Karadžić  led ethnic Serbs who took up arms in 1992 when the republic’s two other ethnic groups, the Muslims and Croats, moved to secede from Yugoslavia.

Under his leadership, Serbs carved out their own mini-state, with the support of neighboring Serbia and Milošević, who died in 2006 awaiting a verdict. Bosnia’s three-way ethnic feud led to a land grab between the rival groups and the expulsions of entire communities that displaced half of Bosnia’s pre-war population of 4.4-million.

Serbs seized about 70% of Bosnia, then settled for 49% under the 1995, US-mediated Dayton peace accord that left Bosnia semi-divided into two autonomous entities, the Serb-run Republika Srpska and the so-called Federation for Muslims and Croats. A weak central government and a three-member presidency are meant to hold the country together but are often dysfunctional.

Indicted by the international court in 1995, Karadžić stepped down after the war and went into hiding. He was caught in 2008, in Serbia, where he had grown long gray hair and a bushy beard and was living under a false identity as a homeopathic healer. Before the war, he was a psychiatrist and an amateur poet.

His trial before The Hague, Netherlands-based court opened in 2009, with almost 600 witnesses appearing over 497 days of testimony. Karadžić insisted that late US diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who mediated the Dayton pact, promised to him he wouldn’t be prosecuted if he left public life.

Karadžić military commander Ratko Mladić, was sentenced to life in jail in 2017 on similar charges. He also appealed his verdict.

Bloomberg