Ex-Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic awaits war crimes verdict at UN court

The Hague: UN judges will pronounce their verdict on Thursday in the genocide trial of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic over the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, Europe's worst atrocity since World War II.

Karadzic is the highest-ranking person to face reckoning before the UN tribunal in The Hague over a war two decades ago in which 100,000 people died as rival armies carved up Bosnia along ethnic lines that largely survive today.

Among the main charges is that Karadzic, who was arrested in 2008 after 11 years on the run, controlled Serb forces that massacred 8000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995 after over-running the supposed UN-designated "safe area".

Karadzic, who once headed the self-styled Bosnian Serb Republic and held the title of supreme commander of its armed forces, is charged with two counts of genocide, the second for a campaign of purging Bosnian Muslims and ethnic Croats from towns around the country. 

The 70-year-old former psychiatrist, still in robust health, could be imprisoned for life for these and nine other counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. If he is convicted, the sentence will be pronounced at a later date.


The only more senior official to face justice before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was the late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who died in custody a decade ago before a verdict was reached.

Ratko Mladic, the general who commanded Bosnian Serb forces, was the last suspect to be detained over the Srebrenica slaughter and is also in a UN cell awaiting judgment.

"I expect justice to win tomorrow and that he [Karadzic] will be sentenced for the killings," said Munira Subasic, whose son was among the victims of Srebrenica.

The "verdict is very important to show new generations, especially those in Serbia who have been poisoned with hatred already, what really happened in Bosnia," she said.

The Srebrenica massacre and the years-long Serb siege of Bosnia's capital Sarajevo, with which Karadzic was also charged, were events that turned world opinion against the Serbs and prompted NATO air strikes that brought the war to an end.

Karadzic defended himself through his 497-day trial and called 248 witnesses, poring over many of the millions of pages of evidence with the help of a court-appointed legal adviser.

Prosecutors say he conspired to purge Bosnia of its non-Serb population. Rejecting the charges, Karadzic sought to portray himself as the Serbs' champion, blaming some of the sieges and shelling on Bosnian Muslims themselves.

Opponents of the ICTY argue that its prosecutors have disproportionately targeted Serbs, with 94 out of 161 suspects charged from the Serbian side, while 29 were Croat and nine Bosnian Muslim.

Prosecutors have also been criticised for not bringing charges over the atrocity-ridden war against two other leaders of that era who have since died - Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic.

"If you had got prosecutions of those three (including Milosevic) then you'd get a really good picture of the way the violence was produced but we're not getting it," said Eric Gordy, an expert on the court at University College London.

The ICTY, set up in 1991 at the outset of federal Yugoslavia's violent break-up that killed 130,000 people through the 1990s, was meant to deter future war crimes and promote reconciliation - but its judgments remain divisive.

This week, the government of Croatia - an ex-Yugoslav republic now in the European Union - asked the ICTY to revise a ruling that named Tudjman, the country's founding president, as an accessory to a plan to commit ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.

Many Serbs, both in Bosnia and Serbia, regard the court as a pro-Western instrument, maintain that Karadzic is innocent and believe his conviction would inflict grave injustice on all Serbs.

Serge Brammertz, prosecutor at the tribunal, worries that its work, which is winding down, has done little to help heal the war's deep wounds, given that ethnic nationalists continue to dominate power in much of Bosnia.

"I'm not convinced everyone has really understood the wrongdoings from the past," he said. "Many people in all the former Yugoslavia are still using a rhetoric that is still closer to what we heard in court than we should expect."