A U.N. court handed down its first sentence Friday, sending a Croat soldier to prison for 10 years for his role in the massacre of 1,200 Muslims after the fall of the Bosnian town of Srebrenica.
The sentence was the first since the Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal was established in 1993 and the first international war crimes sentence since the post-World War II tribunals in Nuremberg and Tokyo.Prosecutors had recommended no more than 10 years for Drazen Erdemovic, 25, who had pleaded guilty to crimes against humanity in the July 1995 massacre organized by the Bosnian Serb army at a farm in Pilica, north of Srebrenica.
The slaughter was one of the biggest single massacres of Bosnia's 3 1/2-year war. Thousands of Muslim men and boys were killed after Bosnian Serbs overran Srebrenica - a U.N. designated "safe haven" - and overwhelmed the few Dutch peacekeepers there.
Erdemovic's attorney had demanded an acquittal, arguing that Erdemovic had to participate in the mass killing of unarmed civilians or be shot by his own firing squad. The attorney, Jovan Babic, said he was planning to appeal.
Presiding Judge Claude Jorda of France told Erdemovic he should serve the term, minus time already served since he was transferred here in March.
When considering a sentence, Jorda said judges took into account Erdemovic's age at the time of the crime, his low military rank, his remorse and his cooperation with investigators.
Jorda said during the 45-minute hearing that Erdemovic was not considered a threat to the public. But he rejected Erdemovic's defense that he was obeying orders out of fear for his life, saying there was no evidence to back it up.
Erdemovic, wearing a white shirt and gray vest, was consoled by his lawyer before being led out of court by two U.N. guards.
In tribunal custody since March 31, Erdemovic will likely serve his time in Norway, Finland or Italy, which have volunteered to take prisoners sentenced by the U.N. court.
U.S. prosecutor Mark Harmon called for leniency because of the help Erdemovic gave investigators probing atrocities committed around the fall of Srebrenica.
At a pre-sentencing hearing last week, Erdemovic told the U.N. court that taking part in the massacre ruined his life.
"It destroyed me. It killed me. I simply thought that my life was worthless after that," he said.
His commanding officer in a Bosnian Serb army execution squad repeatedly ordered him to shoot groups of 10 Muslims, many blindfolded and with their hands bound behind their backs, he said.
The alternative, Erdemovic said, was to line up with the prospective victims and be shot himself.
The tribunal has indicted 74 war crimes suspects but gained custody of just seven.