The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal has acquitted former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic of one of the two genocide charges he faces but upheld 10 other counts at the halfway stage of his trial.
Presiding Judge Oh-Gon Kwon said prosecutors did not provide enough evidence to “be capable of supporting a conviction of genocide in the municipalities” – a charge covering the mass killings, expulsions and persecution by Serb forces of Muslims and Croats from Bosnian towns early in the country’s 1992-95 war.
While the dismissal of one genocide charge was a setback for prosecutors, judges upheld 10 more charges, including a genocide count covering Karadzic’s alleged involvement in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys.
Prosecutors finished presenting their evidence in May and earlier this month Karadzic asked judges to dismiss all 11 counts against him, saying prosecutors had failed to prove their case.
Karadzic’s lawyer, Peter Robinson, welcomed yesterday’s rejection of the genocide charge.
“Dr Karadzic and myself both thought it was a courageous decision of the trial chamber to say at this stage of the case that there was no genocide in the municipalities in Bosnia in 1992,” he said outside the court. “But I do expect that the prosecution will want to appeal this decision.”
Prosecutors had no immediate reaction.
But survivors of the Bosnia war, which left 100,000 people dead, said the decision could set back any reconciliation.
“We are shocked and disappointed,” said Edin Ramulic, who heads an association of victims in Bosnia’s Prijedor region. “We have no reason to hope now that the Serbs will go through catharsis and acknowledge that the non-Serbs in Prijedor had been killed, tortured, exterminated, raped.”
Karadzic’s trial will continue later this year on the 10 remaining counts and he will begin his defence on October 16. He faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if convicted.
The court has repeatedly ruled that the massacre in Srebrenica was genocide, but has never convicted any suspect of genocide for the campaign of killings in the Bosnia towns and villages at the outset of the war.
Judges said there was enough evidence to uphold charges including murder and persecution in the early stages of the war, but the killings did not rise to the level of genocide, which requires prosecutors to prove intent to wipe out a specific group of the population in whole or in part.
Karadzic was arrested in 2008, 13 years after he was first indicted on charges of masterminding Serb atrocities during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war.