UN court gives life sentences to 2 Bosnian Serbs for genocide at Srebrenica

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Two Bosnian Serbs were convicted Thursday of genocide and sentenced to life imprisonment for the 1995 massacre of Muslims in Srebrenica — the harshest judgment ever delivered by the U.N. war crimes tribunal on the Balkan wars.

A third Bosnian Serb officer was given a 35-year prison sentence for aiding and abetting genocide. Two others were acquitted of genocide charges but convicted of extermination, murder and persecution, while a final two officers were found guilty of lesser charges of war crimes.

It was a dramatic conclusion to the largest trial conducted by the tribunal since it was set up in 1993 to prosecute the worst war crimes offenders even while the fighting was still under way among the ethnic groups in the disintegrating Yugoslavia.

The verdict could have an indirect bearing on the trial of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, which began last year following his capture in Belgrade in 2008.

Vujadin Popovic and Ljubia Beara, convicted of the worst crime in the war crimes statute, were high-ranking security officers with the Bosnian Serb army that overran Muslim forces and thinly armed U.N. troops in the Srebrenica enclave. Drago Nikolic, convicted of aiding and abetting genocide, was a brigade security commander.

All three were in the chain of command under Gen. Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb commander who remains a fugitive 15 years after his indictment.

Sentences for the four other army and police officers ranged from four to 19 years.

The slaughter of some 8,000 Muslim men was the worst massacre on European soil since World War II. Tens of thousands of civilians were evicted from their homes, in what the U.N. court has called a deliberate attempt to wipe out the Muslim community from that area.

The court has convicted only one other person, Gen. Radislav Kristic, of genocide, but his 2001 conviction was overturned on appeal and reduced to aiding and abetting genocide.

The judges ruled that Popovic, the chief of security for the Drina Corps, organized and watched the execution of prisoners at a school in Orahovac.

He “knew that the intent was not just to kill those who had fallen into the hands of Bosnian Serb forces, but to kill as many as possible,” the judgment said.

His “robust participation” showed that he shared the intention of destroying the Muslim community — the key requirement for a genocide conviction.

Popovic shook his head in denial as the decision of the three judges was read out in court.

Beara co-ordinated the murder of Muslim prisoners and organized their mass burials, the judgment said.

“Beara had a very personal view of the staggering number of victims destined for execution,” it said. He “was intent on destroying a group by killing all the members of it within his reach.”

Organizations: U.N., THE HAGUE, Drina Corps

Geographic location: Srebrenica, Netherlands, Balkan Yugoslavia Belgrade Orahovac

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