PARIS -- A U.N. court Wednesday increased the sentence of Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader, from 40 years to life in prison for his role in the Bosnian war of the 1990s, reaffirming his conviction on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Both the prosecution and the defense had appealed the 2016 result of Karadzic's trial before the U.N. Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, in The Hague, Netherlands. Karadzic, who largely acted as his own lawyer in court, had asked to be acquitted of all charges.
The prosecution sought an increase in his sentence -- a largely symbolic move, because Karadzic, 70 at the time of the verdict, was unlikely to live long enough to serve out his lengthy sentence. The court's decision Wednesday to raise the penalty drew cheers and applause from Bosnians watching in the gallery.
The five-judge panel decided 3-2 that it was unreasonable for Karadzic to receive a 40-year sentence when some of his subordinates had been sentenced to life for their roles in the same atrocities, particularly the July 1995 massacre in and around the town of Srebrenica. The defendant watched calmly as the decision was delivered.
Prosecutors had asked the court for an additional genocide verdict in the case, based on events in seven Bosnian towns where tens of thousands of people were killed, but the panel rejected that request, which had been the subject of intense debate among lawyers, human-rights groups and victims.
During the war, which raged from 1992 to 1995, Karadzic was president of Republika Srpska, the region that tried to break away from Bosnia, where violence carried out by the dominant Serbs forced out much of the Croat and Muslim population.
His trial, followed by the three years of appeals, was the most important in the 23-year history of the U.N. tribunal and was widely seen as a test of whether the modern international criminal justice system could impose accountability on wartime leaders.
The proceedings thoroughly investigated the bloodiest conflict in Europe since World War II, which tore apart Yugoslavia, ravaged several of the smaller nations that emerged from it and left more than 100,000 people dead. Among the Balkan combatants -- Serbia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Croatia -- millions of people were displaced, many of them forced from their homes.
The tribunal has tried many figures for crimes in the wars that broke up Yugoslavia. Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb commander, are the most senior figures to be convicted. Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian president whose extreme nationalism instigated and enabled the bloody conflict, died in 2006 in his cell in The Hague before the end of his trial.
The genocide charges against Karadzic dealt partly with the Srebrenica massacre, when 8,000 Bosnians, mostly men and boys, were rounded up and systematically killed.
Members of the Mothers of Srebrenica, an organization of survivors of Srebrenica and a nearby village, Zepa, were present at The Hague on Wednesday.
The appeals were little covered by the media in Serbia, where The Hague's tribunal is widely viewed as anti-Serb. Serb leaders in Bosnia denounced Wednesday's decision as proof of the court's bias, claiming that the tribunal was not interested in crimes committed against Serbs.
Serge Brammertz, the chief prosecutor, said in a statement: "Opponents of the tribunal will claim that this judgment is a verdict against the Serbian people. I reject that in the strongest terms. Karadzic's guilt is his, not his community's."
He said he was satisfied with the court's decision.
Karadzic, who in the past has called the war crimes "myths," felt moral responsibility for the atrocities, but not "individual criminal responsibility," one of his lawyers, Peter Robinson, said Wednesday.
The appeals ruling is final. Karadzic will serve his sentence in one of the European countries that have agreed to take tribunal prisoners.
A Section on 03/21/2019
Print Headline: Karadzic's new sentence life for Bosnian war crimes