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Genocide Sets Precedent at The Hague - 2001-08-02

Judges at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague have handed down their first genocide conviction. Bosnian Serb general Radislav Krstic was found guilty of genocide for his role in massacres in Srebrenica in 1995 and sentenced to 46 years in prison.

This is a historic moment for the tribunal and a clear victory for prosecutors. Not only did judges rule in their favor on all counts, but they have established, for the first time, that genocide was committed in Bosnia.

Presiding Judge Almiro Rodrigues said that although Krstic didn't make the decision to execute between 7,000 and 8,000 Muslim men after the fall of Srebrenica, he nevertheless knowingly agreed to an evil plan. Judge Rodrigues spoke through an interpreter. "You are guilty of having agreed to the plan to conduct mass executions of all the men of fighting age. You are therefore guilty of genocide, General Krstic," he said.

What happened at Srebrenica has been well documented, but this is the first time an international court has ruled it as fact. Judge Rodrigues said that what started as an ethnic cleansing campaign to rid Srebrenica of its Muslims, eventually became genocide. The general was there, ruled the judges, when the decision was made to separate the women from the men, he was there when the men were driven away to be executed, and it was his troops who committed the massacres. Judges ruled he did nothing to prevent the crimes or punish those who committed them.

Defense lawyers say the general, who appeared nervous during the hour and a half long proceeding, was not surprised by the verdict, but he will appeal.

Although prosecutors had asked for consecutive life sentences, lead prosecutor Mark Harmon said he's satisfied with Krstic's 46 years, the longest sentence handed down by this court.

In the judgement, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander, General Ratko Mladic, figure highly as key planners of the Srebrenica events. They've also been indicted for genocide in Srebrenica, but are still at large.

Prosecutor Harmon said their time has come. "They have to be brought here," he said. "Obviously the implications are that one trial chamber has made a finding of genocide and has listened to substantial evidence in this case. And it's now time for Karadzic and Mladic to come to The Hague to present defenses to those charges that have been outstanding for many, many years."

If and when they do get here, the case against them will be well established.