UN judges bring to end the longest-running war crimes prosecution dating back to the Balkan wars.
United Nations judges have expanded the conviction of two former allies of the late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, sentencing them to 15 years in the last case before the tribunal in The Hague dating from the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
The sentences of Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic were raised from 12 to 15 years on Wednesday as the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) overturned their acquittals of involvement for crimes in several Bosnian municipalities – and one Croatian one – due to their role in financing and training Serb militias during the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1992, appeals judges said.
Presiding Judge Graciela Gatti Santana said Stanisic, 72, and Simatovic, 73, “shared the intent to further the common criminal plan to forcibly and permanently remove the majority of non-Serbs from large areas of Croatia and Bosnia”.
Neither man showed emotion as Santana passed the sentence.
Stanisic was in court for the hearing, while Simatovic watched by video link from a UN detention unit.
The decision by the IRMCT in the retrial of Stanisic and Simatovic brings to an end the longest-running war crimes prosecution dating back to the Balkan wars of the early 1990s.
“This pronouncement marks a milestone in the mechanism’s history … The appeals chamber pronounces the last appeal judgment,” Santana said.
The Balkan wars marked an emerging call for autonomy within Yugoslavia by nationalist groups following the death of President Josip Broz Tito.
Croatia and Slovenia were the first countries to try to gain independence in a conflict with the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army.
Bosnia and Herzegovina was the following country to try and gain independence.
Stanisic, a former head of Serbia’s state security service, and Simatovic, a senior intelligence operative with the service, are the only Serbian officials to have been convicted by a UN court of involvement in crimes in Bosnia.
Serb forces’ ‘campaign of terror’
Milosevic was put on trial for his alleged involvement in the bloody wars that erupted as former Yugoslavia fell, but he died in his prison cell in 2006 before a verdict was reached.
The international court has also convicted Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic and military chief Ratko Mladic over the Balkan wars.
Stanisic and Simatovic were initially acquitted a decade ago by the UN Yugoslav war crimes tribunal, but an appeals chamber ordered a retrial.
In 2021, judges convicted the pair of helping train and deploy Serb forces during the takeover of Bosanski Samac in April 1992.
Serb forces launched a “campaign of terror” to drive out non-Serbs involving rapes, looting and the destruction of religious buildings in the town, judges said at the time.
They also held Bosnian Muslims and Croats in detention centres and subjected them to forced labour, repeated beatings, torture, and sometimes killings.
The Balkan wars left about 130,000 people dead and millions more displaced.
The fallout of the war continues in the region, with clashes in northern Kosovo between ethnic Serbs and NATO-backed peacekeepers.
(c) Al Jazeera, 2023