Doctor who ran Bosnian death camps jailed for life

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The Independent Online

The political leader who helped set up Bosnia's notorious detention camps, where acts of murder, torture and rape were perpetrated on a scale not seen since the Second World War, was jailed for life by a court in The Hague yesterday.

Milomir Stakic, a medical doctor, received the longest sentence handed down by the United Nations tribunal.

Stakic was directly involved in setting up the camp at Omarska in May 1992 and went on television to defend the establishment of two others at Keraterm and Trnopolje.

Footage from the camps, showing starving men behind barbed-wire fences, sparked outrage around the world in August 1992, with images reminiscent of Nazi death camps.

Stakic, 41, was identified as a leading architect of the campaign of ethnic cleansing, in which Serb forces launched a campaign of persecution against Muslims.

The balding, bearded defendant looked stunned as the judge, Wolfgang Schomburg, told the court: "Dr Milomir Stakic is hereby sentenced to life imprisonment." He added that he would be eligible for parole after 20 years. Stakic was acquitted of genocide, the most serious charge, but convicted on five counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including extermination, murder and persecution.

During the hearing the prosecution produced evidence of the atrocities committed at the camps, where well-educated professional people were selected for particularly brutal treatment, and where beatings, rapes and sexual assaults were commonplace. At the Omarska camp, detainees were beaten on arrival, then regularly beaten during the days and nights with electric cables, rifle butts, police batons and wooden clubs. In some cases the beatings proved fatal. Many women detainees were raped and sexually assaulted.

The same pattern was repeated at Keraterm and Trnopolje camps, where those held were mainly women, children and the elderly.

Stakic's indictment listed specific incidents of murder and brutality, including the killing of 120 people taken in two buses from Keraterm and Omarska in August 1992, the month the camps were closed.

The tribunal rejected Stakic's defence that he was a "puppet" in Bosnian Serb wartime politics with no real power. It decided Stakic performed his duties as president of the Prijedor administration, signing orders that perpetuated hatred of non-Serbs and assisting the persecution of tens of thousands of civilians.

A conservative estimate was that more than 20,000 people had been deported from the Prijedor region as part of a policy of ethnic cleansing, the judge said. Although not imposed before, Judge Schomburg said the maximum penalty was "not restricted to the most serious crime" of genocide. The longest jail term handed out before yesterday was 46 years to Radislav Krstic, the Bosnian Serb general who was convicted of genocide for having command responsibility for massacres at Srebrenica.

But the judgment in The Hague yesterday also revealed the difficulty that the tribunal's chief prosecutor has had in making charges of genocide stick. Yesterday was the third occasion in which defendants had been acquitted of genocide charges. To gain a genocide conviction, the prosecution must prove a prior intent to destroy an ethnic group wholly or in part. In Prijedor, the ruling said, the object was to displace the non-Serb population but "this cannot be equated with the intent to destroy it".