A UN war crimes court convicted two Bosnian Serb cousins yesterday for a 1992 killing spree that included locking scores of Muslims in two houses and burning them alive.
Yugoslav war crimes tribunal judge Patrick Robinson said burning at least 119 Muslims to death in the eastern Bosnian town of Visegrad "exemplified the worst acts of inhumanity that one person may inflict on others".
He sentenced Milan Lukic to life in prison and Sredoje Lukic to 30 years.
Mr Robinson said Milan Lukic was the ringleader in both incidents, helping herd victims into the houses, setting the fires and shooting those who fled the flames. The judgment said Sredoje Lukic aided and abetted in one of the incidents. Witnesses "vividly remembered the terrible screams of the people in the house", Mr Robinson said, adding that Milan Lukic used the butt of his rifle to herd people into the house, saying: "Come on, let's get as many people inside as possible." The victims ranged from two days old to 75.
Milan Lukic shook his head but looked unmoved as Mr Robinson pronounced sentence. Sredoje Lukic leaned back in his chair, his face blank.
Mr Robinson said: "In the all-too-long, sad and wretched history of man's inhumanity to man, the Pionirska street and Bikavac fires must rank high." Prosecutors seeking to clear the court's docket had asked for the case to be handed to a Bosnian court because the cousins were relatively low-ranking suspects. But tribunal judges refused, saying the allegations were so serious they should be handled in The Hague.
Dika Osmo, a member of a war victims' group in Bosnia, said the life sentence was "not enough for such a criminal. I could not have imagined that a human being like this could be born, could exist at all. This is someone who killed a two-day-old baby."
Milan Lukic also was convicted of murdering 12 other Muslims, shooting them in the back on the banks of the Drina River, which runs through Visegrad, so the current would sweep their bodies away.
Mr Robinson said Milan Lukic "ignored the victims' pleas for their lives" as he and other Serb paramilitaries executed them with a single shot in the back before firing into the bodies of any men they believed were still alive.
Milan Lukic was arrested in 2005 in Argentina and sent for trial in The Hague. His cousin surrendered to Bosnian Serb authorities and was transferred to The Hague.