Life Sentence for the Siege of Sarajevo

For the first time in its history, the tribunal delivers the maximum penalty on appeal.

Life Sentence for the Siege of Sarajevo

For the first time in its history, the tribunal delivers the maximum penalty on appeal.

Friday, 1 December, 2006
The tribunal’s appeals chamber sentenced Stanislav Galic, a former Bosnian Serb army commander in charge of Serb troops deployed around Sarajevo, to life imprisonment for his role in the campaign of sniping and shelling against the city’s civilians from September 1992 to August 1994.

Galic had been handed a 20-year prison sentence in December 2003, but the prosecution subsequently appealed against the sentence, demanding a life term.

The appeals judges found that, although the trial chamber did not err in its factual findings and correctly noted the principles governing sentencing, "the sentence of only 20 years was so unreasonable and plainly unjust, in that it underestimated the gravity of Galic's criminal conduct”.

The original trial chamber had established that the evidence demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that Sarajevo civilians were subjected to deliberate attacks by Bosnian Serb army forces under Galic’s command.

They were attacked while attending funerals, while in ambulances, trams and buses. Children were targeted while playing or walking in the streets. These attacks were mostly carried out in daylight and were not in response to any military threat, the judges noted.

Explaining their decision to hand down the maximum penalty, the judges also mentioned “exceptional cruelty and brutality of the crimes [Galic] committed”.

Other important factors, according to the judges, were the gravity of the crimes, the role and participation of the accused and Galic's abuse of the position of authority he held at the time relevant to the indictment.

This is the first time a life sentence has been delivered by the appeals judges.

The tribunal has sentenced only one defendant to life imprisonment so far - former Bosnian Serb politician and mayor of Prijedor, Milomir Stakic, who was accused of masterminding the creation of a number of detention camps around Prijedor, where thousands of Muslims and Croats perished in 1992.

However, the appeals chamber later reduced Stakic’s prison term to 40 years.

So far, Galic is the only tribunal detainee whose life sentence was delivered on appeal.

Galic also appealed his 2003 judgement, but in their verdict on November 30, the judges dismissed all 19 grounds of his appeal, including those which claimed that the trial chamber wrongly convicted him of the "acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which was to spread terror among the civilian population" of Sarajevo.

Spokesman for the Hague prosecutor’s office Anton Nikiforov says the prosecutors are “extremely happy” with the appeals chamber’s verdict in Galic’s case.

“This judgement is very important and it’s a great result for us and especially for the victims of the Sarajevo siege,” he told IWPR.

Reactions in Bosnia to Galic’s sentence were quite mixed. While those who lived through the 1992-95 siege of Sarajevo thought the sentence was appropriate, Bosnian Serbs living in Republika Srpska say this was more proof that the Hague tribunal is unfair and hands down severe sentences only to Serbs.

A reporter with Sarajevo-based Avaz daily, Sead Numanovic, says this is “a victory of justice”.

“Sarajevo was under siege for 1,425 days; 11,000 people were killed, 1600 of them children; 50,000 of its citizens were wounded. The most drastic judgment handed down by the Hague tribunal so far is the only appropriate sentence for the horrors these people went through,” he said.

Igor Gajic, the editor-in-chief of the Banja Luka political magazine Reporter, disagrees.

“I’m not surprised with this sentence,” he said. “It just proves that the Hague tribunal is biased and delivers harsh sentences only to Serbs, while verdicts handed down to Muslims and Croats are very mild.”

However, not everyone in Sarajevo thinks Galic deserved life imprisonment. Oslobodjenje daily’s editor-in-chief Senka Kurtovic says she is very surprised by the appeals chamber’s judgement.

“Although as a citizen of Sarajevo I can say this sentence will mean a lot to the victims of the Serb siege, as a journalist, I think it is too harsh,” she said.

Kurtovic adds that Galic was “just an executioner” of the crimes planned by the Bosnian Serb political and military leaders, such as top war crimes fugitives Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, and that this verdict would be more appropriate for them.

She says it seems to her that with this judgement the tribunal is sending a message they are already giving up on Karadzic and Mladic.

“It’s as if they are saying: we failed to bring these two to justice, but at least someone got a life sentence for the crimes committed in Bosnia,” she said.

Merdijana Sadovic is IWPR’s Hague project manager.
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