Srebrenica genocide convictions upheld

On January 30, 2015, the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) upheld its guilty verdicts against five Bosnian Serbs for their role in the killing of almost 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in 1995 in the UN-declared enclave of Srebrenica. The Srebrenica massacre, as it is known today, is regarded as one of the worst incidents of bloodshed on European soil since World War II.

The ICTY issued its first judgment on the Srebrenica genocide in 2004. Radislav Krstíc, deputy commander of the Bosnian Serb forces, was the first individual charged with aiding and abetting genocide and sentenced to 35 years’ imprisonment on April 2004. Six years later, in June 2010, five more men— Vujadin Popović, Ljubiša Beara, Drago Nikolíc, Vinko Pandurević and Radivoje Miletić— were found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. The Hague-based tribunal found that all five of them had played central roles in the military operation that led to the massacre. The first two were sentenced to life imprisonment, while the remaining three were sentenced to 35, 13 and 19 years in prison, respectively. Soon after the judgment, the defendants all appealed their sentences. Their lawyers argued that there were factual errors and misjudgments in their indictments. They also challenged the credibility of some of the 315 witnesses who testified during the 425 days of trial proceedings. But after nearly 20 years, including a 10-year legal battle, the Appeals Chamber of the ICTY reaffirmed the ruling and reinforced its conclusions that Bosnian Muslims were victims of a policy of genocide and ethnic cleansing that was planned and implemented by the Bosnian Serb forces during the 1990s Balkans war. It dismissed the appellants’ challenges, upholding life-long prison sentences against Popović and Beara and only reducing Miletić’s 19-year sentence by one year.

The ICTY is the first such tribunal since the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. It was established in 1993 to put an end to mass killings and the continuance of the practice of ethnic cleansing.[1] Since then, it has indicted 20 individuals for crimes related to the Srebrenica massacre and 161 persons for serious violations of humanitarian law committed in the former Yugoslavia. The lengthy appeals decision delivered today is important in the ongoing process of post-war reconciliation efforts and constructive dialogue between the region’s ethnics groups.

[1] See UN Security Council Resolutions 808 and 827 on the Establishment of an International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (1993). http://www.icty.org/x/file/Legal%20Library/Statute/statute_808_1993_en.pdf; http://www.icty.org/x/file/Legal%20Library/Statute/statute_827_1993_en.pdf

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Photo by Clay Gilliland

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