by Jan Hennop and Jo Biddle UN war crimes judges on Thursday were to deliver a keenly-awaited judgement on Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, accused of genocide for some of the worst atrocities committed in Europe since World War II.
Karadzic was “anxiously” awaiting the landmark verdict, after a marathon trial on 11 charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, his defence lawyer told AFP.
Judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) were to pronounce judgement against Karadzic at 1300 GMT for his alleged role during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war that claimed more than 100,000 lives and displaced 2.2 million others.
Now 70, the one-time psychiatrist with the trademark bouffant hair will be the highest-profile politician from the conflict to face judgement, after former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic died in his prison cell while on trial in 2006.
The hearing, which has drawn more than 200 journalists and over 100 other diplomats and observers, was taking place amid tight security, with one police officer saying they were on “extra alert” following Tuesday’s attacks in neighbouring Belgium.
Karadzic, as president of the breakaway Republika Srpska,is accused of taking part in a joint criminal scheme to “permanently remove Muslim and Bosnian Croat inhabitants… from areas claimed as Bosnian Serb territory”.
This was done through a ruthless campaign of ethnic cleansing, indiscriminate killings, persecutions and terror, said the ICTY’s prosecutors, who have asked for a sentence of life imprisonment.
– Huge ‘day for justice’ –
A long-time fugitive from justice until his arrest in a Belgrade bus in 2008, Karadzic was notably wanted for his role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in eastern Bosnia.
Almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered and their bodies dumped in mass graves by Bosnian Serb forces who brushed aside Dutch UN peacekeepers in the supposedly “safe area.”
The massacre was the worst bloodshed on European soil since World War II.
Significantly, Karadzic is also accused of genocide in other municipalities around Bosnia in the early 1990s including Prijedor, Sanski Most and Zvornik. A guilty verdict for this charge would be a first at the ICTY.
He is further accused, along with his military alter-ego and Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic, who faces similar charges, of being behind the 44-month siege of Sarajevo in which 10,000 civilians died in a relentless campaign of sniping and shelling.
“It’s a hugely significant day today for international justice,” said Jasna Causevic, 58, one of a group of protesters who began gathering early outside the ICTY awaiting the verdict.
“Karadzic and his group, including Milosevic, divided Bosnia and that’s still the case today,” she told AFP.
Karadzic, also a published poet, remained defiant this week telling Balkan media on Wednesday he expected to be “acquitted”, and playing down the killings at Srebrenica as only “several hundred”.
“My expectations are the same (as they always were). I know what I wanted, what I did, even what I dreamed of, and there is no reasonable court that would convict me,” Karadzic told the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in an interview by email.
But his lawyer Peter Robinson told AFP at the court on Thursday that his client was “anxiously” awaiting the verdict, adding in a tweet that it would be “the longest day ever.”
During the trial, which open in 2009 and ended in October 2014 after an exhausting 497 days in the courtroom, some 115,000 pages of documentary evidence were presented along with 586 witnesses.
Lavien Partawie, 25, waiting outside the court with the Society for Threatened Peoples, said: “It is important for the victims of Bosnia Herzegovina. We are hoping to get justice.”
“We all have to learn about it so we can solve the problems of the future.”
© 1994-2016 Agence France-Presse
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