Serbia’s government on Friday criticized the “selective” justice of the UN war crimes tribunal that handed a genocide conviction and 40-year sentence to wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic.
Reading out a statement following a government meeting on Thursday’s ruling, Justice Minister Nikola Selakovic suggested the work of the Hague-based court over the years was biased against Serbs and had left a “bitter taste”.
“All justice that leads to the conviction of one people for crimes that were committed by everyone is selective,” said Selakovic.
He added, however, that Serbia “must cooperate with” the tribunal and stressed he could not comment on specific verdicts.
UN judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) found wartime Bosnian Serb leader Karadzic guilty on 10 charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the Bosnia’s 1990s inter-ethnic conflict.
He is the highest-profile figure to be convicted over the wars that tore Yugoslavia apart, with several others dying before they could face justice, and many Serbs believe the court has unfairly targeted them.
The statement followed one from Serbia’s traditional ally Russia, whose deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov also accused UN war crimes judges of bias and said Karadzic’s verdict was “politicised”.
In Belgrade on Thursday after the sentencing, up to 5,000 ultranationalists briefly broke out in chants of “Radovan Karadzic!” during a pre-election rally against the government, which also took aim at the tribunal.
The rally and verdict came on a politically-sensitive day for Belgrade — the 17th anniversary of NATO launching a bombing campaign against Serbia in the Kosovo war.
At a memorial for victims of the bombing and again after the verdict, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic warned against attacks on Bosnia’s Serb entity, the Republika Srpska, which was founded by Karadzic.
But Vucic, a former ultranationalist who now takes a staunchly pro-European stance, uncharacteristically did not address the press himself after Friday’s meeting.
Karadzic was convicted of genocide for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in which almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed and their bodies dumped in mass graves by Bosnian Serb forces.
The 70-year-old will receive credit for time already spent in detention since 2008, and women in Srebrenica widowed by the slaughter slammed Thursday’s sentence as “inadequate”.
But Bosnia’s Muslim political leader, Bakir Izetbegovic, and the United States welcomed the conviction.
“With the trial chamber’s conviction, we move one step closer to closing yet another painful chapter in the story of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia,” said US State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner.