On June 10, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) convicted two Bosnian Serbs of genocide and sentenced them to life imprisonment for the 1995 murder of as many as 8,000 men and boys from Srebrenica, the largest massacre in Europe since World War II. If the judgments are upheld, they will become the first ever genocide convictions by the ICTY. High-ranking security officers with the Bosnian Serb army, Vujadin Popovic and Ljubisa Beara were both convicted of genocide, extermination, murder, and persecution.
“The scale and nature of the murder operation, with the staggering number of killings, the systematic and organised manner in which it was carried out, the targeting and relentless pursuit of the victims, and the plain intention — apparent from the evidence — to eliminate every Bosnian Muslim male who was captured or surrendered proves beyond reasonable doubt that this was genocide,” the Trial Chamber of the court found.
The court found that Beara was “the driving force behind the murder enterprise” and “had the clearest overall picture of the massive scale and scope of the killing operation.” Of Popovic, the court said that he “knew that the intent was not just to kill those who had fallen into the hands of the Bosnian Serb Forces, but to kill as many as possible with the aim of destroying the group. Popovic’s ensuing robust participation in all aspects of the plan demonstrates that he not only knew of this intent to destroy, but also shared it.”
In order to issue a genocide conviction, the courts must find that the perpetrator possessed the “intent to destroy,” which is required by the definition of genocide. In earlier cases, courts have set a high standard for assessing this very specific state of mind: it must be the only inference based on the facts and circumstances.
The ICTY also convicted a third Bosnian Serb officer, Drago Nikolic, of aiding and abetting genocide. All three officers were in the chain of command under General Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military leader, who remains at large.
The court’s affirmation that the crime of genocide was committed at Srebrenica may influence the ongoing trial at the ICTY of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, arrested in July 2008. In 2001, the court convicted General Radislav Kristic of genocide, but his conviction was overturned on appeal and reduced to aiding and abetting genocide.