The Yugoslav war crimes court on Wednesday jailed for 22 years two former Bosnian Serb officials closely linked to ex-leader Radovan Karadzic, for their roles in a campaign to rid Bosnia of Muslims, Croats and other non-Serbs early in the Balkan country’s 1992-95 war.
“The trial chamber hereby sentences Mico Stanisic” and his subordinate Stojan Zupljanin “to a single sentence of 22 years in prison,” International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) judge Burton Hall said.
Both men, dressed in dark suits and light shirts, with Stanisic wearing a light blue tie and Zupljanin a red, remained unmoved as their sentences were pronounced.
Stanisic, 58, a former minister in the Bosnian Serb Ministry of Internal Affairs and former regional security services chief Zupljanin, 61, faced war crimes and crimes against humanity charges including murder, torture and cruel treatment of non-Serbs in municipalities and detention centres during Bosnia’s war which left 100,000 people dead and some 2.2 million homeless.
They are both regarded as associates of Bosnian Serb ex-leader Radovan Karadzic, who himself faces charges before the tribunal including that of genocide for allegedly masterminding ethnic cleansing in Bosnia after the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in 1991.
The UN court’s judges found that the two men participated in a joint criminal enterprise to cleanse non-Serbs from municipalities in Bosnia marked to become part of a Serbian state, by allowing forces under their command to engage in “violent takeovers of those municipalities and the ensuing widespread and systematic campaign of terror and violence.”
The crimes were committed between April and December 1992 in 20 of Bosnia’s municipalities and 50 different detention facilities set up by Bosnian Serb forces, where captives were beaten, tortured, mutilated, sexually assaulted, humiliated and psychologically abused.
“Many detainees were killed or died as a consequence of the mistreatment. Across municipalities, thousands of non-Serbs were either killed or forcibly displaced from their homes,” the judges said in their verdict.
“Through these acts and omissions both intended and significantly contributed to the plan of removing Muslims and Croats from the territory of the planned Serbian state,” added Judge Hall.
“The chamber finds that the goal of these actions was the establishment of a Serb state as ethnically pure as possible,” he said.
Stanisic, said Judge Hall, “as a minister of interior… was charged with protecting the people, but he failed to take adequate steps to protect Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Croats and other non-Serbs.”
Zupljanin “dispatched his policemen… who participated with the Serb forces in the takeover of municipalities in the ARK (Autonomous Republic of Krajina),” the judge said.
Villages in the municipalities which were predominantly Muslim or Croat “were shelled by Serb forces. This was accompanied by systematic looting,” Hall said.
Zupljanin later became an advisor to Karadzic, while “Mr. Stanisic had a close relationship with” Karadzic, the judge said.
Stanisic gave himself up in March 2005 and was released afterwards to move around freely until being summoned to stand trial.
Zupljanin, a former police chief in the Krajina region of northwestern Bosnia who was arrested in June 2008 in Serbia after more than nine years on the run, has remained in custody after being judged a flight risk.
Their trials — in which prosecutors asked for a life sentence — were joined in September 2008 and took 354 days of hearings with the evidence of 199 witnesses admitted, the ICTY said in a statement.
In Sarajevo, the head of the Association of Victims and Witnesses of the Genocide in Bosnia, Murat Tahriovic, said he was “satisfied” with the sentences.
“Given that sentences handed down to other former Bosnian Serb officials, who were more important at the time, were less severe,” he told AFP.
“We must nevertheless be prudent and await the appeal. Verdicts on appeal at the ICTY have recently been strange, to say the least, and I hope that we won’t be surprised, as we were with Momcilo Perisic,” he said.
The ICTY in February acquitted Yugoslav ex-army chief Perisic on appeal and overturned his 27-year sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Bosnian war, sparking the ire of victims’ groups.