In its first conviction for the gravest crime on its statute, the U.N. war crimes tribunal at the Hague today found a Bosnian Serb general guilty of genocide.
In a landmark ruling on what has been described as one of the "darkest pages in human history," the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal today ruled that Radislav Krstic, 53, was guilty of genocide in the July 1995 massacre of nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica.
He was sentenced to 46 years in prison. The maximum sentence for genocide is life imprisonment.
It was Europe's first conviction of genocide since the Nuremberg trials in Germany conducted after the Holocaust.
A former Bosnian Serb general, Krstic had pleaded not guilty to six charges, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and violating the laws and customs of war.
He maintained that although he was aware of the killings, he was following orders from his immediate superior, General Ratko Mladic.
But in his ruling today, Judge Almiro Rodrigues said that although Krstic was following orders, he bore responsibility for the massacre. "You were there, General Krstic," said Judge Rodrigues. "You were guilty of the murder of thousands of Bosnian Muslims."
Nearly 8,000 Bosnian Muslims, mostly men and boys, were massacred between July 10 and 19, 1995.
The Srebrenica massacre occurred in the summer of 1995, fully two years after it was declared a U.N. "safe area."
In a grisly mass crime against Bosnian Muslims who had taken refuge in the eastern Bosnian town, Bosnian Serb troops laid siege to Srebrenica in July 1995, initially shelling the spa town then forcing an estimated 30,000 people, mostly women and children, to board buses and leave the territory.
The massacres — mostly of men and boys — are believed to have occurred during mid-July.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, 7,300 men and boys, the youngest only 13, were massacred when the Bosnian Serb army overran Srebrenica on July 11 1995. But relatives of the missing have estimated the death toll to be closer to 10,000.
A second in command of the 15,000-member Drina Corps, Krstic maintained that it was Mladic, who spearheaded the massacre. He was merely following orders, he told the court.
But prosecutors maintained that Krstic was fully aware of the massacres and was involved in masterminding the killings. "Our evidence shows that General Krstic participated in, and was fully aware of, these crimes when they were being committed and that he actively supported their commission," U.S. prosecutor Mark Harmon had told the court.
Krstic was seized by NATO troops in 1998.
A Landmark Trial
In the course of the 16-month trial, prosecutors showed more than 900 exhibits, including forensic reports on human tissue from sites where prisoners were killed and intercepts of Bosnian Serb radio messages provided by Bosnian Muslim forces.
The court heard more than 100 prosecution and defense witnesses during 94 trial sessions.
Mladic, along with Bosnian Serb politician Radovan Karadzic, have been indicted by the war court but both remain at large.
Following the extradition of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague in June, Mladic and Karadzic are the international court's most wanted fugitives in the massacres during the Bosnian war from 1992 to 1995. They are believed to be hiding in eastern Bosnia.
The Yugoslav court was established in 1993 to punish those responsible for atrocities during the break up of Yugoslavia after the start of war in 1991.