U.N. appeals judges increased former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić's 40-year sentence to life in prison after upholding his convictions for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The judgement in the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals at The Hague, Netherlands brings to a close the legal odyssey of the 73-year-old former leader — and wraps up a key chapter in the quest for justice in Bosnia.
The international court known as MICT was set up by the United Nations Security Council in 2010 to carry out the remaining duties of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, or ICTR, and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, or ICTY.
The appeals judges said in a 19-page summary that the trial chamber's 40-year sentence in 2016 "underestimates the extraordinary gravity of Karadžić’s responsibility and his integral participation in 'the most egregious of crimes' that were committed throughout the entire period of the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina and were noted for their 'sheer scale' and 'systematic cruelty.' "
Bosnian war victims and a crowd watching live from Sarajevo City Hall erupted in applause upon hearing the verdict.
Still a hero to many
International courts said Bosnian Serb troops led by Karadžić committed genocide when they killed some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in 1995. Some 100,000 people died and millions were uprooted from their homes during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995.
Ismail Ćidić, president of the pro-democracy Bosnian Advocacy Center, said Karadžić has served as an inspiration for some of the 21st century's worst terrorist attacks so far, including the killing of 77 people at a Norwegian summer camp in 2011 and the New Zealand mosque attack that killed 50 people last week.
In Serbia, Karadžić is still regarded as an "inspiration and a hero for a huge majority of the Serbs of my age who, just like myself, do not remember a second of the war and genocide," Ćidić said.
"Only 15% of Serbs in Bosnia consider Radovan Karadžić as a war criminal. The others, including the political elites, glorify his legacy," he said. "Do not get ever surprised if the new Karadžićs reappear. We have warned you."
Two years ago, ICTY convicted Ratko Mladić, the Bosnian Serb general whose forces carried out the worst massacre in Europe since World War II, of genocide and other crimes and sentenced him to life in prison. He was arrested in 2011 after many years on the run.
Towards the end of the war in the former Yugoslavia, Bosnian Serb forces overran what was supposed to be a U.N.-protected safe haven at Srebrenica and systematically murdered 8,000 Muslim men and boys.
A peace agreement was finally signed in 1995, and it was years before Karadžić or Mladic were brought to justice. The autocratic former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević, whose nationalist fervor incited the war, died in his U.N. cell in 2006 before tribunal judges could reach verdicts in his trial.