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Last Updated:  Friday, 28 February, 2003, 00:52 GMT
Bosnia's 'Iron Lady' jailed
A tribunal guards stands next to Plavsic as the sentence is read out
The court heard of her grave crimes but also her later work for peace
The former Bosnian Serb president, Biljana Plavsic, has been sentenced by the International War Crimes Tribunal to 11 years in prison for crimes against humanity.

Plavsic, 72, had pleaded guilty to the crimes committed during the Bosnian war from 1992 to 1995.

She is the highest-ranking official involved in the bloody Balkan conflict to be sentenced to date.

Legal experts say her case is seen as an important step towards reconciliation in the former Yugoslavia.

The victims expected her sentence to reflect the seriousness of her crimes.

But the judges had to weigh that factor against her confession and remorse.


Plavsic, dressed in a dark suit with a green jumper, looked calm as Judge Richard May read out the sentence against her.

No sentence which the trial chamber passes can fully reflect the horror of what occurred or the terrible impact on thousands of victims
Judge Richard May

Although she did not conceive the policy of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and had a lesser role it than some other Bosnian Serb leaders, she had supported it, Judge May said.

It was a crime of the utmost gravity, he said, adding that misplaced leniency would not be fitting.

Judge May said that Bosnians were "mistreated, raped, tortured and killed" in a campaign of ethnic cleansing that Plavsic embraced and promoted.

"No sentence which the trial chamber passes can fully reflect the horror of what occurred or the terrible impact on thousands of victims," he said.

However, he did refer to substantial mitigating circumstances, including Plavsic's:

  • guilty plea and acceptance of responsibility

  • remorse

  • voluntary surrender

  • post-conflict conduct and previous good character

  • age

The court also took into account the testimony by former US. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and others, who said she had played an important part in carrying out the peace agreement negotiated in 1995 in Dayton, Ohio.

The prosecution had asked for a prison sentence of between 15 and 25 years, but her lawyers argued that would amount to a life sentence for a 72-year-old woman and recommended 8 years.

Karadzic ally

During the Bosnian war, Plavsic was known as the "Serbian Iron Lady" because of her hardline nationalism and rabidly anti-Muslim views.

She was also one of the closest allies of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, himself accused of war crimes.

Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic
Plavsic could be called to testify at Milosevic's trial
Plavsic surprisingly changed her plea to guilty on one count of persecution.

In return the prosecution dropped all other charges against her, including genocide - the most serious war crime.

In her statement accepting responsibility for the killing and deportation of thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats, Plavsic named Mr Milosevic as the mastermind behind the ethnic cleansing campaign.


She also urged Mr Karadzic and his military commander, Ratko Mladic, another fugitive from international justice, to surrender.

Although Plavsic did not agree to testify in other cases at the tribunal, she has already been ordered to appear as a witness in one trial.

The judges in the trial of former Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, could call her to testify, where her guilty plea could be used by the prosecution.

Announcing the 11-year jail term, Judge May credited her with 245 days that she had spent in jail since her surrender in January 2001.

The rest of the time she had been allowed to remain free in Belgrade.

The BBC's Geraldine Coughlan
"This is a landmark case"

Bosnia: The legacy of war
15 Nov 00 |  Europe
Country profile: Bosnia-Herzegovina
15 Jan 03 |  Country profiles

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