A UN appeals court overturned a war crimes conviction Thursday against the former commander of Bosnian Muslim forces in Srebrenica, Naser Oric.
"The appeals chamber ... reverses Naser Oric's conviction (and) finds Oric not guilty," said judge Wolfgang Schomburg of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, based in The Hague.
Oric was convicted in June 2006 of failing to prevent subordinates from killing six Bosnian Serb prisoners and maltreating others held in 1992 and 1993 in Srebrenica -- later the scene of the worst atrocity of Bosnia's 1992-95 war.
He was sentenced to two years in jail, but was freed to return to Sarajevo having already spent more than three years in custody awaiting trial.
Both Oric and the prosecution appealed the finding: Oric maintaining his innocence and the prosecution objecting that the sentence was too low. It had asked for 18 years.
Schomburg found that the trial court had failed to make a finding on the criminal responsibility of Oric's only identified subordinate, Atif Krdzic, or on whether Oric had known about the misdeeds.
Both elements were crucial for a conviction of a superior for his subordinates' deeds, said the judge.
"These errors therefore invalidate the trial chambers decision to convict Naser Oric."
The chamber said it had no doubt that grave crimes were committed against Serbs held in detention facilities in Srebrenica.
"However, proof that crimes have occurred is not sufficient to sustain a conviction of an individual for these crimes," said Schomburg.
"Criminal proceedings require evidence establishing beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is individually responsible for a crime before a conviction can be entered."
It dismissed all of the prosecution's grounds of appeal.
Sitting next to his lawyer, Oric smiled as the judgment was delivered, later telling journalists: "Of course, I am very happy".
"We expected this, everyone who followed the trial expected the outcome," he said with the help of English translation from his legal representative Vasvija Vidovic.
Asked how he felt about having had spent three years in detention only to be acquitted eventually, Oric said: "It is part of my destiny. Life goes on."
And he defended the actions of his forces during the Bosnian war.
"We were under total siege. We were just fighting to survive, fighting for our lives. You cannot compare that with other war events because we lived in special circumstances."