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Europe

First Genocide Sentence in War Crimes Tribunal Reduced

Judges at the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal have reduced the genocide charges against ex-General Radislav Krstic, who was the first and thus far only person convicted of genocide relating to the Srebrenica massacre .

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Bosnian women, relatives of those killed at Srebrenica, during a protest.

Krstic, who commanded the feared Drina Corps, was sentenced in 2001 to 46 years in prison following his genocide conviction. Judges in the Hague reduced the sentence to 35 years and his charge to one of aiding and abetting genocide after deciding that a lower court did not prove "Krstic possessed genocidal intent."

The 56-year-old commander was the first person to be convicted of genocide in connection with the murder of more than 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica in Bosnia in July 1995. The massacre, in a supposed United Nations "safe area," was the worst since World War Two and sent shock waves across the world.

"Grave," but not genocide

But three years after his conviction, judges felt the genocide charge might have been too severe.

"While Radislav Krstic's crime is undoubtedly grave, the finding that he lacked genocidal intent significantly diminishes his responsibility," the court said, according to Reuters.

The five-judge panel did reject an argument by defense lawyers that the Srebrenica massacre did not qualify as genocide.

The decision could have an effect on the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, who is also facing a count of genocide. During the first half of Milosevic's trial, prosecutors were having a difficult time proving the charge against the ex-Serbian President.

High bar set for genocide charge

According to international law experts, the charge sets a high bar for a conviction on genocide. The suspect must have planned to either completely or partly eliminate a national or ethnic group, race, or religion. Then, the suspect must act on those plans, by actively killing the members of the group or causing serious physical or psychological harm to the victims.

The judges did not believe Krstic intended to wipe out the Bosnian Muslim population but that his knowledge of the killings, including those being carried out by his soldiers, earned him the "aiding and abetting" charge.

The ruling did not please relatives of those murdered.

"He should have gotten a life sentence," one woman who lost 28 family members in the massacre told Reuters.

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