Genocide Conviction For Radovan Karadzic, Two Decades After The War : Parallels A tribunal in The Hague has sentenced the former Bosnian Serb leader to 40 years in prison. NPR's Tom Gjelten, who covered the Bosnian war, explains the twists and turns in the case.
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Two Decades After The War, A Genocide Conviction For Radovan Karadzic

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Two Decades After The War, A Genocide Conviction For Radovan Karadzic

Two Decades After The War, A Genocide Conviction For Radovan Karadzic

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More than 20 years have passed since Serb forces in Bosnia slaughtered about 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica. Today, a conviction in that and other cases from the Bosnian war from the international tribunal at the Hague - Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian-Serb president, was found guilty of genocide and other war crimes. The presiding judge, O-Gon Kwon, said Karadzic and other Serb leaders pursued Muslim men around Srebrenica with a dogged determination.


O-GON KWON: The chamber considers that this, combined with the manner as well as the systematic and highly organized nature of the killings, demonstrate a clear intent to kill every able-bodied Bosnian Muslim male from Srebrenica.

SIEGEL: NPR's Tom Gjelten covered the Bosnian war for us and joins us now.

Tom, 20 years is a long time. And for the benefit of those who don't recall the Bosnian war, remind us what was going on.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Well, remember Robert, there used to be an ethnically mixed country in the Balkans called Yugoslavia. It broke up in 1991 when Serbs and Croats there went their separate ways. Bosnia was one of Yugoslav republics. And Serb nationalists there, led by Radovan Karadzic, set out to create an ethnically pure ministate just for Serbs. And to do that, they drove out or killed almost all non-Serbs. This was from 1992 to 1995. About 100,000 people were killed, mostly civilians, mostly Muslims. Srebrenica was the most egregious case, but not the only one, obviously.

SIEGEL: And you are there. You were there.

GJELTEN: I was there. And I have to say, Robert, that no story that I've covered here at NPR in all my years had more of an impact on me personally than that one. I spent months on end in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, when it was under siege. About 11,000 persons died there. I also witnessed this horrible practice called ethnic cleansing of various parts of Bosnia. I interviewed some of the people who managed to escape the slaughter in Srebrenica. You know, at the time, this was the worst thing seen in Europe since the Holocaust. And Europeans had said never again, which is why this war presented such a challenge.

SIEGEL: The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was set up in 1993. It's an understatement to say that the wheels of justice have turned slowly in this case.

GJELTEN: First conviction only came in 2000. Three high-profile defendants - Slobodan Milosevic, the former president of Yugoslavia; Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, the head of the Bosnian-Serb army - Milosevic died in custody while he was there. Mladic was arrested in 2011. His trial is ongoing. Karadzic was arrested in 2008 and just now convicted.

SIEGEL: Aside from the genocide conviction, Karadzic was also found guilty on nine other counts. Tom, what were they?

GJELTEN: Largely under the category of crimes against humanity, he was considered responsible for the shelling of Sarajevo - the siege of Sarajevo. He was found guilty of having been involved in hostage-taking - remember the Serb forces took U.N. peacekeepers hostage - and also found guilty of war crimes for other cases of mass murder.

SIEGEL: What do you think the lessons are that we can take from this delayed prosecution of Karadzic?

GJELTEN: Well, I think you already hinted at one, Robert, which is that victims have to be patient if they expect justice to be carried out in the case of war crimes. Many years have passed. There'll be some satisfaction that there finely was a guilty verdict in this case. But, for example, the Syrian opposition forces are already saying they are looking forward to a war crimes trial in their case. The advice for them should be that they may have to wait a long time before they see that justice.

SIEGEL: Thanks, Tom.

GJELTEN: You bet.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Tom Gjelten.

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