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Karadzic faces historic verdict at UN war crimes court

AFP file photo | Radovan Karadzic is led into the courthouse during a 2013 appearance at the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.

UN war crimes judges will deliver a keenly-awaited judgement Thursday on wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, accused of genocide for some of the worst atrocities committed in Europe since World War II.

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Once the feared leader of Bosnia’s Serb minority during the Balkan country’s brutal 1992-95 war, Karadzic faces charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the bloody slaughter that claimed more than 100,000 lives and displaced 2.2 million others.

Karadzic, sporting his familiar bouffant hairstyle, will face judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at 1300 GMT for the historic ruling.

Now 70, the one-time psychiatrist will be the highest-profile politician from the Balkan wars to face judgement, after former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic died in his prison cell in The Hague while on trial in 2006.

Karadzic, as president of the breakaway Republika Srpska, is accused of taking part in a joint criminal scheme to “permanently remove Muslim and Bosnian Croat inhabitants... from areas claimed as Bosnian Serb territory”.

This was done through a ruthless campaign of ethnic cleansing, indiscriminate killings, persecutions and terror, said the ICTY’s prosecutors, who have asked for a life sentence.

A long-time fugitive from justice until his arrest in 2008, Karadzic was notably wanted for his role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in eastern Bosnia.

Almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered and their bodies dumped in mass graves by Bosnian Serb forces who brushed aside Dutch UN peacekeepers in the supposedly “safe area.”

The incident was the worst bloodshed on European soil since World War II and has been deemed as genocide by two international courts.

Significantly, Karadzic is also accused of genocide in other municipalities around Bosnia in the early 1990s including Prijedor, Sanksi Most and Zvornik.

Defiant

Karadzic, also a published poet, remained defiant this week telling Balkan media on Wednesday he expected to be “acquitted”, and playing down the killings at Srebrenica as only “several hundred”.

“My expectations are the same (as they always were). I know what I wanted, what I did, even what I dreamed of, and there is no reasonable court that would convict me,” Karadzic told the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in an interview by email.

If he is found guilty of genocide in the municipalities, it will be a landmark ruling at the ICTY.

Prosecutors say Karadzic “knew or had reason to know” that genocide would be committed as a result of the ethnic cleansing plan, and that he failed to stop it or punish those responsible.

He is further accused, along with his military alter-ego and Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic, who faces similar charges, of being behind the 44-month siege of Sarajevo in which 10,000 civilians died in a relentless campaign of sniping and shelling.

Once Europe’s most-wanted man, Karadzic was arrested on a Belgrade bus in 2008 after 13 years on the run, sporting a thick grey beard and posing as a natural healer. He was transferred to The Hague shortly afterwards.

His marathon trial opened in 2009 when a not-guilty plea was entered on his behalf because he refused to address the court.

‘Man of peace’

During the trial, which ended in October 2014 after an exhausting 497 days in the courtroom, some 115,000 pages of documentary evidence were presented along with 586 witnesses, while court officials recorded some 47,500 pages of transcripts.

Karadzic, whose famous shock of grey hair has turned white, led his own defence and repeatedly insisted he was a “man of peace” and “a friend to Muslims” seeking to prevent the worst excesses of the conflict.

Karadzic’s legal advisor Peter Robinson however admitted to AFP that “it would be a huge surprise to everyone if Karadzic was completely acquitted, so I’m not expecting that.”

About 150 representatives from survivors’ groups will attend Thursday’s judgement including survivors of detention camps and widows and mothers of Srebrenica victims, some still waiting for word about their missing relatives.

Press and political interest in the verdict is also intense, with the public gallery expected to be packed to capacity, the proceedings being watched by more than 200 journalists and 50 diplomats.

(AFP)

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