The UN's Yugoslav war crimes tribunal convicted Bosnian Serbian military chief Gen. Ratko Mladic on Wednesday of genocide and crimes against humanity, and sentenced him to life in prison for atrocities during Bosnia's 1992-1995 war.
Mladic, 75, was found guilty of commanding forces responsible for crimes including the worst atrocities of the war — the deadly three-year siege of the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, and the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the eastern enclave of Srebrenica, which was Europe's worst mass killing since World War II.
His lawyer, Dragan Ivetic, told journalists that Mladic will appeal.
A three-judge panel in The Hague court, formally known as the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, convicted Mladic of 10 of 11 counts in a dramatic climax to a groundbreaking effort to seek justice for the wars in the former Yugoslavia.
Judge Alphons Orie read out the judgment after ordering Mladic out of the courtroom over an angry outburst.
"The crimes committed rank among the most heinous known to humankind," Orie said.
Mothers of Srebrenica's victims clapped when the convictions were read out.
Mladic's son, Darko Mladic, said: "I'm not surprised. The court was totally biased from the start."
Bosnians and Serbs watched from near and far as the long-awaited climax approached. Wednesday's judgment marks the end of the final trial at the tribunal, which was set up in 1993, while fierce fighting was still raging in Bosnia.
Emotions ran high outside the courtroom, with a small skirmish reflecting lingering tensions between Serbs and Bosnians over the trial and the war.
Despite ailing health, Mladic initially looked relaxed, greeting lawyers and giving a thumbs-up to photographers in court. He nodded regularly as presiding Judge Alphons Orie read out descriptions of atrocities by Bosnian Serb forces, one by one.
Then Mladic's lawyer asked for a delay because the general was suffering high blood pressure. The judge refused, and Mladic burst out with criticism and was ordered to leave the room.
Prosecutors had sought a life sentence, while Mladic's defence lawyers said he should be acquitted on all counts.
Orie said the court confirmed that "genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and the inhuman act of forcible transfer were committed in or around Srebrenica" in 1995. Previous judgments have said it was genocide. However, Orie said the court is "not convinced" of genocidal intent in six other municipalities, in line with previous judgments.
'The epitome of evil'
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein has hailed the conviction of Mladic as a "momentous victory for justice."
In a statement, he said Mladic is "the epitome of evil, and the prosecution of Mladic is the epitome of what international justice is all about."
"Mladic presided over some of the darkest crimes to occur in Europe since World War II, bringing terror, death and destruction to thousands of victims, and sorrow, tragedy and trauma to countless more," he said.
"Today's verdict is a warning to the perpetrators of such crimes that they will not escape justice, no matter how powerful they may be, nor how long it may take. They will be held accountable," Zeid said.
A former prisoner of Serb-run camps in northwestern Bosnia who became a symbol of the 1992 to 1995 war horrors says justice has finally been satisfied.
Fikret Alic was featured in photos published in Time magazine in 1992, when thousands of Muslims were rounded up in the notorious camps by Bosnian Serbian troops.
Alic's skeletal figure behind a barbed wire shocked the world and raised international awareness of the war.
"Justice has won, and the war criminal has been convicted," said Alic, who was in The Hague as UN judges declared Mladic guilty.
He added that the verdict "means that the example will help prevent war crimes in the future."
100,000 died in the conflict
The conflict in the former Yugoslavia erupted after the breakup of the former multi-ethnic federation in the early 1990s, with the worst crimes taking place in Bosnia. More than 100,000 people died and millions lost their homes before a peace agreement was signed in 1995. Mladic went into hiding for around 10 years before his arrest in Serbia in May 2011.
Mladic's political master during the war, former Bosnian Serbian president Radovan Karadzic, was also convicted last year of genocide and sentenced to 40 years. He has appealed the ruling.
The man widely blamed for fomenting wars across the Balkans, Yugoslavia's former president, Slobodan Milosevic, died in his UN cell in 2006 before tribunal judges could reach verdicts in his trial.
The guilty verdict has caused mixed reactions in Serbia, which is seeking European Union membership, but where nationalism remains strong years after the 1990s conflict.
The hearing at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal was aired live on state TV Wednesday in the Balkan country, where many consider Mladic a hero.
Nationalists blasted the guilty verdict and life sentence of Mladic. But Serbian liberals hailed the judgment, urging the nation to face its role in the conflict that left 100,000 people dead and millions homeless.
Serbia's pro-government Pink television, a widely viewed commercial broadcaster, described the Mladic verdict as "shameful" and anti-Serb.
Among those in the opposing camp was the Youth Initiative for Human Rights group, which said: "War criminals must not be treated as heroes."
'Mladic's guilt is his and his alone'
The chief prosecutor in the tribunal said the conviction of former military commander is not a verdict against all Serbs.
"Mladic's guilt is his and his alone," Serge Brammertz said.
Serbian nationalists often portray the tribunal as anti-Serb because most of the people it has convicted were Serbs.
Brammertz, who spoke to reporters after the findings were read, said he would study the judgment before deciding whether to appeal on the one count Mladic was found not guilty.
NATO head says 'the rule of law is working'
The head of the NATO military alliance is welcoming the life sentence, and says it shows that justice works.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday the verdict "shows that the rule of law is working and those responsible for war crimes are held to account."
Stoltenberg said in a statement that he hopes the ruling will help move the entire Western Balkans region "further down the path of peace and reconciliation."
He also underlined the region's importance to the transatlantic alliance, and said NATO's doors remain open to Western Balkans countries willing and able to join.
The European Union said it is counting on the Balkan nations to honour the victims of war crimes committed in the Bosnian war by promoting reconciliation among neighbours.
The EU said it could not comment specifically on the judgment against Mladic, but that it fully respects the court's decisions.
It said Wednesday's judgment "touches upon some of the darkest, most tragic events" in the recent history of the Western Balkans and Europe.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson says the genocide conviction shows "those who perpetrate atrocities cannot outrun justice."
Johnson says Wednesday's conviction "will not bring back the thousands who lost their lives, but it does demonstrate that the architects of their suffering will be held to account."