The International War Crimes Tribunal sentenced the logistical mastermind behind the massacre of more than 7,500 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995 to a surprisingly severe 27 years in prison.
The relatives of those killed in the 1995 massacre greeted the harsh sentence.
When the sentencing was read, the man convicted of helping organize the ritual slaughter of thousands of Muslim men and boys, put his head in his hands and sobbed.
Defense attorneys for Momir Nikolic, 48, a former Bosnia Serb intelligence officer, had asked the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague, Netherlands for a sentencing of no more than ten years. Instead, Judge Liu Daqun exceeded even the expectations of the prosecution and sentenced Nikolic to 27 years behind bars for his role in the Srebrenica massacre in 1995.
"He saw with his own eyes the separation of men from their families. He heard the cries of children as they saw their fathers taken away. He saw the fear in the eyes of the women pushed on to buses as they knew that the fate of their fathers, husbands and sons was beyond their control," Liu said in justifying her sentence, the first time a sentence imposed after a plea ignored suggestions by both the prosecution and defense.
Officer thought plea would spare him
Nikolic, who agreed to a plea deal that spared him charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, became the first Serb officer sentenced in connection with the brutal massacre. In exchange for accepting a lesser charge of persecution, Nikolic agreed in May to fully cooperate with tribunal prosecutors.
His detailed testimony, and that of brigade commander Dragan Obrenovic, helped prove the long-held theory that the massacre was a well-planned and orchestrated event. The former math teacher helped organize the logistics of the attack on Srebrenica, the planning for which began in June 1994. One year later, Serb forces rolled undisturbed past a battalion of Dutch U.N. peacekeepers assigned to protect the town.
In eight days of testimony this spring, Nikolic told the court he was responsible for coordinating "the separation, detention and killings of the men."
Victims group greets sentence
More than 7,500 men were systematically executed and buried in mass graves from July 12 to July 16. His attorneys though that by pleading guilty to "widespread and systematic attack on the civilian population of Srebrenica" and testifying against other officers on trial, Nikolic would be given leniency.
But judges felt that even an admission of guilt did not compensate for the severity of the crimes he was held responsible for. Victims groups in Bosnia agreed and responded positively to the sentencing on Tuesday evening.
"He took part in separations and killings of our dearest,” Munira Subasic, head of the Srebrenica victims association, told the wire service AFP. “The seriousness of the crime is evident even if he pleaded guilty."
But the testimony highlighted again that almost a decade after the massacre, the tribunal is no closer to capturing the two men most responsible for the slaughter. Though NATO peacekeeping troops stationed in the Balkans since the end of the Bosnian conflict in 1995 have made attempts in the past year at arresting Bosnian Serb wartime political leader, Radovan Karadzic, and his army commander, Ratko Mladic, the two remain at large.