Radovan Karadzic sentence increased to life for Bosnia genocide: UN judges

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic arrives at the court room of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals in The Hague, Netherlands, on March 20, 2019 to hear the final judgement on his role in the bloody conflict that tore his country apart a quarter of a century ago. (AFP/AP Pool)
Updated 20 March 2019

Radovan Karadzic sentence increased to life for Bosnia genocide: UN judges

  • A panel of appeals judges in The Hague “imposes a sentence of life imprisonment”
  • Judgement increases original sentence of 40 years

THE HAGUE: Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic will spend the rest of his life in jail for the "sheer scale and systematic cruelty" of his crimes in the war that tore his country apart a quarter of a century ago, UN judges said on Wednesday.

Karadzic, 73, stood motionless and grim-faced in the dock as judges in The Hague said they had upheld his 2016 convictions for genocide in the Srebrenica massacre and war crimes in the 1990s.

In one of the last remaining cases from the break-up of Yugoslavia, they also increased his original 40-year sentence, saying it did not reflect his role in the worst bloodshed in Europe since World War II.

Judges at the original trial "underestimated the extreme gravity of Karadzic's responsibility for the most grave crimes committed during the period of conflict, noted for their sheer scale and systematic cruelty", head judge Vagn Joensen said.

The panel of appeals judges therefore "imposes a sentence of life imprisonment", he said.

Relatives of the victims had called for a life sentence.

A woman reacts after the verdict on former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic's appeal of his 40 year sentence for war crimes, in the Memorial centre Potocari near Srebrenica. (Reuters)

"If he is not given a life sentence, the tribunal will have committed genocide against justice," Munira Subasic of the Mothers of Srebrenica victims' association told reporters ahead of the verdict, where a small group of relatives held banners and photos of the dead outside the tribunal.

Karadzic, who has been in detention for 11 years, was "calm" ahead of the verdict, the Belgrade daily Vecernje Novosti quoted his brother Luka as saying.

The paper also published several cryptic "aphorisms" written by Radovan Karadzic including one which said: "A man who swallows his honour for breakfast may have something for dinner."

A former psychiatrist and amateur poet turned brutal political leader, Karadzic was arrested in 2008 in Belgrade after nearly 13 years on the run during which he posed as a new age healer called Dragan Dabic.

In 2016, Karadzic was found guilty on 10 counts including orchestrating a nearly four-year siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, where more than 10,000 people died in a campaign of sniping and shelling, according to prosecutors.

He was also found guilty of genocide in Srebrenica, where Bosnian Serb troops slaughtered more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys in eastern Bosnia, which was supposed to be under UN protection, and buried their bodies in mass graves.

Prosecutors said Karadzic and others including his military alter-ego, former Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic, wanted to "permanently remove Muslims and Croats" from territory claimed by Bosnian Serbs at the time.

Radovan Karadzic appears before the Appeals Chamber of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals ("Mechanism") ruling on a appeal of his 40 year sentence for war crimes in The Hague. (Reuters)

Bespectacled and with his trademark mane of white hair swept back from his face, Karadzic said nothing as the verdict was read out, but shortly afterwards looked to the public gallery and gave a small smile.

Appeals judges repeatedly dismissed Karadzic's claims that he was not aware of orders by Bosnian Serb forces to eliminate Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, and to indiscriminately target civilians in Sarajevo.

They rejected Karadzic's claims that he did not know a military directive he drafted and signed on the fate of Srebrenica called for Bosnian Serb forces to create an "unbearable situation with no hope of further survival" for inhabitants.

Karadzic's case still bitterly divides the country he helped drive to war, with widows of Srebrenica hoping he dies in prison even as Bosnian Serbs have honoured him with a university dorm in his name.

People react after the verdict on former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic's appeal of his 40 year sentence for war crimes, in the Memorial centre Potocari near Srebrenica. (Reuters)

Families of the victims of Srebrenica were watching the verdict at the Women of Srebrenica association building in the town of Tuzla.

Hajrija Oric, 63, who arrived at the Srebrenica memorial centre to watch the verdict showed AFP photos on her mobile phone of her son 17-year-old son Elvir and husband Sahin who were both killed in the massacre.

Their remains were found years later and buried.

"My hope.. is that (Karadzic) is sentenced to life," she said ahead of the verdict.

"All I found was a handful of bones and head. I would give everything, I would give my eyes if I could bring them back but it cannot happen."

The case also comes at a crucial time for international courts as they come under attack from quarters including the administration of US President Donald Trump, and reel from a series of mistrials.

Ex-military chief Mladic, 76, dubbed the "Butcher of Bosnia", is currently appealing a life sentence on similar charges.
Former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, Karadzic's long-time patron during the war, was on trial in The Hague until his death in 2006.

Syria harvest boom brings hope as hunger spikes

Updated 3 min 45 sec ago

Syria harvest boom brings hope as hunger spikes

DAMASCUS: Watching a combine harvester grind through his golden wheat, farmer Yahya Mahmoud is relieved the yield looks good this year, even as a tanking economy leaves millions hungry across war-torn Syria.
Before the war erupted in 2011, Syria produced enough wheat to feed its entire population but harvests then plunged to record lows, boosting reliance on imports, mainly from regime ally Russia.
Heavy rains and reduced violence in parts of the country this year have led to a much improved harvest, one that farmers and officials hope will soften the blow of an economic crunch that has plunged millions into food insecurity.
In the Al-Kaswa region near the capital Damascus, Mahmoud eyed yellow wheat stalks, their ribbed tips shining under the strong June sun.
“I rushed to harvest my wheat crop this year... to feed myself and my family,” said the 61-year-old farmer, fearing crop fires as summer temperatures soar.
“Those who grow wheat don’t go hungry,” he added, a brown hat covering his head.
More than nine years into a conflict that has killed over 380,000 people and displaced nearly half of the country’s pre-war population, a staggering 9.3 million Syrians face food insecurity, the United Nations says.
The value of the Syrian pound has reached unprecedented lows against the dollar on the black market, sending prices soaring in a country where the UN says nine out of 10 people now live in poverty.
The crisis has been compounded by a COVID-19 outbreak and new US sanctions against Syria.
In a bid to ease the crisis, many are looking toward the agriculture sector, which the UN says forms the largest part of the Syrian economy and contributes to the livelihoods of millions in rural areas.
Farmers across the country this year were able to use 70 percent of the land allocated for cereal production, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
Mahmoud cultivated four hectares (almost 10 acres) of land with wheat instead of one in previous years, he told AFP.
“It was a blessed year, with plentiful rain, so we had to make use of it,” said the farmer, who returned to his plot two years ago after the government recaptured areas around Damascus from rebels.
Inspecting fields nearby, Hisham Al-Sayyad, a local agricultural official, said farmers in Al-Kaswa have cultivated 3,000 hectares of land this year, which is 1,000 more than the year before.
“Syria is an agricultural country,” said Sayyad.
“Despite sanctions and an economic siege, agriculture can help us achieve self-sufficiency.”
Bigger harvests alone do not guarantee better lives for Syrians, however.
Price hikes fueled by the Syrian pound’s tumble have made it more costly for farmers to purchase water, pesticides, seeds and fuel.
Imports of key agricultural equipment has become very expensive, said Taleb Khalifa, a 51-year-old crop grower.
“We are facing a serious challenge,” he said, inspecting the engine of a combine harvester.
To make matters worse, fresh US sanctions came into force mid-June, exposing anyone doing business with President Bashar Assad’s government to travel restrictions and financial penalties.
This has spurred fears that foreign companies may be liable if they do business in government-held parts of the country.
Khalifa’s combine is the only functional one in all of Al-Kaswa and is used to harvest several plots.
He feared US sanctions could hamper the import of spare parts if it broke down.
“The sanctions, in general, are adding to our woes.”
Earlier in June, Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Syrians should wean themselves off imports and rely on local products to combat the effects of sanctions.
Haytham Haydar, the director of agricultural planning in the Syrian government, echoed this view.
“We hope to return to large pre-war production levels” of wheat, which stood at around 4.1 million tons, he said from his Damascus office.
He said wheat production this year reached 3 million tons, up from around 2.2 million tons last year.
Haydar acknowledged “rising production costs” but blamed it solely on Western sanctions he described as a “war” on food security.
He said the “economic blockade” on Syria would only boost agricultural production.
“Syrians will rely on their own production capacities to weaken reliance on imports as much as possible,” he said.