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Friday, 3 August, 2001, 07:21 GMT 08:21 UK
Genocide verdict: More to come?
General Krstic
General Krstic: The Hague tribunal's first genocide conviction
By South-East Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

The trial of General Radislav Krstic has been by far the most important case to have been heard by The Hague tribunal so far - and for several reasons.

It has dealt with the 1995 Srebrenica massacre - the killings of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys - which is widely regarded as the worst single atrocity in Europe since the end of World War II.


It may well be that the tribunal wants to keep life imprisonment in reserve

It involved a general - only the second to have been put in the dock up to now.

And it secured The Hague tribunal's first conviction of a defendant for genocide - a charge the United Nations Geneva convention of 1948 defines as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group".

Previous convictions by the tribunal have involved charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Those charges arose out of ethnic cleansing in its many forms - killings, torture, systematic rape and forcible expulsions.

Handful

But this time the three-member panel of judges ruled that at Srebrenica ethnic cleansing became genocide.

The judges took the view that, in deciding to kill all Muslim men of fighting age - while deporting the entire population of women, old people and children - General Krstic and his associates intended to make it impossible for Muslims, as a community, to survive in Srebrenica.

Woman mourns Srebrenica
In Srebrenica, ethnic cleansing became genocide

Six years after the Srebrenica killings - and five-and-a-half after the Dayton peace accords which specified that refugees must be allowed to return to their homes - only a handful of Muslim survivors have been able to go back to Srebrenica.

The scale of the Srebrenica tragedy - and the first-ever genocide conviction at The Hague - account for the 46-year prison term the judges have imposed on General Krstic.

It is the longest sentence meted out to any of the defendants.

Previously, the harshest punishment - 45 years - had been given to General Tihomir Blaskic, a Bosnian Croat commander.

He had been convicted of the killings of Bosnian Muslims in central Bosnia - atrocities, which though horrific, had produced hundreds, rather than thousands of victims.

So the tribunal now appears to have wanted to make it clear that General Krstic's guilt was even greater than that of General Blaskic.

Life imprisonment

At the same time the judges have not accepted the prosecution's demand for consecutive terms of life imprisonment on each of the charges - which is the tribunal's most severe penalty in the absence of capital punishment.

General Mladic
Ratko Mladic: The tribunal may be saving a life term for those who allegedly gave the orders

It may well be that the tribunal wants to keep life imprisonment in reserve for those considered ultimately most responsible for the worst crimes.

In the case of Srebrenica, that is expected to be kept in reserve for the Bosnian Serbs' wartime military commander, General Ratko Mladic and his political master, Radovan Karadzic - if they are found guilty at trial.

With the guilty verdicts on the genocide charges, The Hague Tribunal has now followed its counterpart in Arusha which has already convicted several Rwandan officials involved in the massacres of 1994.

The question that remains for the tribunal is just how long it will take before General Mladic and Mr Karadzic are brought to trial.

Until that happens, many Bosnian survivors of ethnic cleansing will find it difficult to come to terms with their tragedy - even if some now find it reassuring that at least one war crimes suspect has been found guilty of genocide.

See also:

02 Aug 01 | Europe
Srebrenica judgement: Excerpts
02 Aug 01 | Europe
General guilty of Bosnia genocide
20 Feb 01 | Europe
Bosnia war criminals lose appeal
16 Nov 98 | Europe
Three guilty in Bosnia trial
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