Genocide and RS - I. Hague rules Srebrenica was act of genocide
by Ian Traynor, Zagreb
The massacre of up to 8,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995 was an act of genocide in a deliberate attempt by the Bosnian Serb leadership to exterminate part of the Muslim community, appeal judges ruled in a crucial case at the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague yesterday.
The judgment, establishing beyond doubt that the massacre was the gravest crime possible, will have a far-reaching impact on many other trials at The Hague, including that of Slobodan Milosevic, and a ripple effect in international justice.
Five appeal judges, headed by the tribunal president, Judge Theodor Meron of the US, dismissed appeals by the defence and the prosecution in the case of General Radislav Krstic, a Bosnian Serb regional commander who is the only person so far convicted of genocide by the tribunal.
They overruled that verdict, given in 2001, and decided Krstic was guilty not of genocide but of aiding and abetting genocide, and reduced his sentence from 46 to 35 years.
The defence had argued that ‘ethnic cleansing’ was not genocide and that the genocide verdict should be overruled; the prosecution that the 46-year sentence was too light, given that Krstic had been found guilty on the gravest of charges and others found guilty of lesser crimes had received life sentences.
‘The appeals chamber calls the massacre at Srebrenica by its proper name: genocide,’ Judge Meron said, explaining the judgment yesterday.
‘Those responsible will bear this stigma, and it will serve as a warning to those who may in future contemplate the commission of such a heinous act.
‘By seeking to eliminate a part of the Bosnian Muslims, the Bosnian Serb forces committed genocide,’ he went on.
‘They targeted for extinction the 40,000 Bosnian Muslims living in Srebrenica, a group which was emblematic of the Bosnian Muslims in general.’
The judgment finally lays to rest all claims that there was no genocide in Bosnia in the 1992-95 war.
Genocide is the most difficult of crimes to prove and the judges yesterday made it plain that they would demand the most rigorous evidence for any case alleging genocide.
Mr Milosevic has been charged with genocide and is preparing his defence. Experts following the case believe the prosecution has failed to prove the charge. A finding yesterday that no genocide had taken place in Srebrenica would have been a severe setback for the prosecution. It would also have set back the possible trials of the fugitive Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, both of whom are indicted with genocide.
In more than 10 years of activity, the tribunal has so far found that genocide occurred solely in Srebrenica. For that reason the prosecution in the Milosevic case sought to link him to the Srebrenica massacres of July 1995.
A genocide finding requires proof of ‘specific intent’ to wipe out an entire or part of a religious or ethnic community.
This report appeared in The Guardian (London), 20 April 2004