As It Happens

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic sentenced to 40 years for genocide and war crimes

A United Nations tribunal in The Hague has convicted Karadzic of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the massacre of Bosnian men and boys at Srebrenica and the deadly siege of Sarajevo.
Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic at his sentencing in The Hague. Bida Smajlovic prays near the memorial plaque to those killed in the Srebrenica massacre. She lost her husband and brother. (Robin van Lonkhuijsen and Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader who terrorized the country during the 1992-95 war, will spend the rest of his life in prison.

On Thursday, a United Nations tribunal in The Hague convicted Karadzic of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian men and boys at Srebrenica and the deadly siege of Sarajevo. The 70-year-old was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

A man yells for help minutes after a fourth Serb shell hit a crowded pedestrian walkway in the centre of the besieged Bosnian capital May 22, 1993. (Reuters)

Gordana Knezevic watched as Karadzic orchestrated his war crimes. She was editor of the Sarajevo newspaper Oslobodenje during the siege. And, like everyone else in the city at that time, her life was thrown into chaos.

"He is guilty for so many lives lost. He is guilty of such destruction of the city itself," she tells As It Happens host Carol Off.

"But what I think he is guilty of most is something that was not mentioned during The Hague proceedings. He actually killed the fine multi-ethnic structure of the city."

During the siege of Sarajevo, Gordana Knezevic was the editor of the Oslobodenje newspaper. (iwmf.org)

Sarajevo was a city under siege for almost 1,500 days. The grounds of the 1984 Olympic Games became a mass grave. People lived in constant fear. When it was all over, the city was in ruins.

Some, like two of Knezevic's three children, were able to escape. Families were torn apart.

"I cannot forgive him for the fact that I had to separate my family," she says. "Immediately after the war, I lost my husband. He is a kind of unregistered victim of war because he passed away immediately after."

Rifka Levi, 73, who spent part of World war II in concentration camps in Croatia and Serbia weeps as she waves goodbye to friends as she starts the journey that will take her to Jerusalem in June 1993. (Oleg Popov/Reuters)

Karadzic was found guilty of 10 of the 11 charges against him. Chief among them, the massacre at Srebrenica. Some of the families of the victims who were slaughtered at Srebrenica expressed anger outside the tribunal in The Hague. They are upset he did not get a life sentence.

Stacks of unidentified corpses line the walls of an underground shelter at a Bosnian morgue in Tuzla March 28, 1997. The body bags contain victims found in mass graves and in wooded areas after the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. (Reuters)

During the trial, Karadzic denied having ordered killings. He even described himself as "a true friend to Muslims." 

Back in 1993, As It Happens reached Karadzic by phone. That's when host Michael Enright asked him, "How's the ethnic cleansing going?" Here, take a listen:

In January 1993, Sarajevo was under siege. Karadzic's forces had taken over most of Bosnia and, in his words, "cleansed" large portions of the territory of non-Serbs. There were reports of death camps and mass rapes.

Knezevic says watching the sentencing on TV, she saw a deeply deluded person.

"I saw a man who is old, who worries. Primarily, I think he worries what will happen to himself. I don't think he has any idea of the crimes that he committed."

Bosnian refugees from Srebrenica wail over their missing men in the refugee camp at the Tuzla airport, July 1995. (Reuters)

While she understands the outrage of some, Knezevic says she hopes that Karadzic's conviction will help Bosnians finally heal.

"I don't know a single person from Bosnia who was not affected by this war. I can't imagine what kind of person I would be today, if there was no Karadzic," she says. "I personally think that this is a kind of closure. This is an important moment."

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