Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, accused of the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II, faces judgement on Thursday over war crimes charges.
The International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) will deliver the most important verdict in its 23-year history when it rules on whether Karadzic is guilty of involvement in the genocide of Muslims at Srebrenica during the 1992-95 Bosnian War.
The terrorizing of Bosnian capital Sarajevo and the kidnapping of UN peacekeepers also form part of the charges.
General Ratko Mladic, the alleged executor of Karadzic’s plans and the Bosnian Serb military chief, is also in front of the tribunal with his trial due to be completed this year.
“We are waiting for Karadzic’s verdict and the end of Mladic’s trial. They are the most important cases in the history of the tribunal,” chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz recently told Balkan TV station N1.
The death toll in the war pitting Orthodox Serbs against Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats was close to 100,000. Of that, 38,000 were civilians, mostly Bosniaks, according to the Sarajevo Research and Documentation Centre. Half of the 4.4 million inhabitants were displaced.
Around 8,000 Bosniaks were killed in Srebrenica alone in July 1995.
In Sarajevo, where the Serbs used snipers and shelled indiscriminately throughout the 44 months of war from their positions in the mountains, more than 10,000 from all ethnic groups were killed.
Karadzic and Mladic, backed by Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade, allegedly designed a plan for ethnic cleansing to create a Serb-only area in Bosnia.
Milosevic also went on trial but died of a heart attack a decade ago before a verdict.
Karadzic, 70, was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008 following 13 years on the run, during which time he grew a huge beard, changed his identity and became an alternative healer.
He claimed he was innocent of the charges and represented himself during the marathon proceedings, which included 497 court sessions, the hearing of 586 witnesses and 800,000 pages of documents.
A guilty verdict for Karadzic and Mladic would align with the 2007 ruling by the International Court of Justice - the primary judicial branch of the United Nations - that Bosnian Serb forces committed genocide in Srebrenica, while Serbia did too little to prevent it.
The international community, which established the ICTY in 1993 to deal with the most important crimes in the Yugoslav wars, hopes the end of the trials will lead the three ethnic groups toward reconciliation and help Bosnia move on from political stalemate.
Kada Hotic, a Srebrenica survivor who lost her son, two brothers and husband in the massacre, said the verdict is important but the wait has been too long.
“Nobody at the Hague tribunal so far was really blamed for that crime,” she told dpa. “And it is important for history, to blame somebody, to say the first and last names of those who were behind that crime and who were judged for it.”
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