Appeals judges at the Yugoslav war crimes Tribunal in The Hague have overturned the court's only genocide conviction. They found former Bosnian-Serb General Radislav Krstic guilty instead of the lesser crime of complicity in genocide for his role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, and reduced his sentence by about one quarter.
While the decision may be a blow to prosecutors, appeals judges upheld the landmark finding of the original trial chamber, that what happened in Srebrenica in July 1995, was genocide.
During the course of five days, Bosnian-Serb troops systematically executed between 7,000 and 8,000 Muslim men and boys in an act that Judge Theodor Meron said was meant to symbolize the fate of all of Bosnia's Muslims.
"The Appeals Chamber states unequivocally that the law condemns, in appropriate terms, the deep and lasting injury inflicted, and calls the massacre at Srebrenica by its proper name: genocide," he said. "Those responsible will bear this stigma, and it will serve as a warning to those who may in future contemplate the commission of such a heinous act."
General Radislav Krstic, former commander of the Bosnian-Serb Drina Corps, was one of those responsible. But just how much responsibility he had was at the core of appeal.
The original trial chamber found three years ago that Krstic was a direct participant in the massacres. The judges ruled that he had the necessary intent to be held responsible for genocide, that is that he had the intention to destroy a whole group, or part of a group, in this case, Bosnia's Muslims.
But the appeals judge, Mr. Meron, explained that is an extremely high burden of proof for one of the world's most serious crimes. And in this case, he said, prosecutors failed to prove it and the trial judges made a mistake in convicting Krstic of genocide.
"The Appeals Chamber is of the view that all the evidence can establish is that Mr. Krstic was aware of the intent to commit genocide on the part of some members of the main staff, and with that knowledge, he did nothing to prevent the use of Drina Corps personnel and resources to facilitate those killings," said judge Meron.
In other words, the appeals court concluded that prosecutors had failed to prove that Krstic had the necessary genocidal intent, but he assisted those who he knew did have that intent. For that, judges found him guilty of aiding and abetting genocide.
A nervous-looking Krstic stood solemnly as judges announced the reduction of his 46-year prison sentence to 35 years. His lawyer called the decision "O.K."
Prosecutors said they will study it to see where their case was weak. But they stressed that the court's finding that the Srebrenica killings were a genocide is extremely important for other cases.