A Serbian war crimes court has sentenced four members of a paramilitary group known as the Scorpions to a total of 58 years in prison for the execution of six Muslims during the Srebrenica massacres of July 1995.
Their trial was the first in Serbia to deal with the systematic killings of up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in the final months of the 1992-95 Bosnian war Europe's worst atrocity since the Second World War.
The man who ordered the executions, Slobodan Medic, was sentenced to 20 years alongside his cousin, Branislav Medic. Pera Petrasevic, the only Scorpion who pleaded guilty, received 13 years.
Their driver, Aleksandar Medic, was sentenced to five years in jail but a fifth man, Aleksandar Vukov, was acquitted after the court decided he had left the scene prior to the execution of the six men, which happened on 16 or 17 July 1995.
The cold-blooded killings, which occurred in the village of Trnovo after the fall of the eastern enclave of Srebrenica, were video-taped by the Scorpions, who can be seen laughing, smoking and taunting their captives.
The six Muslim men and boys were forced to lie down with their hands tied before being shot in the back by their captors. Two of the victims were 17, while the others were in their 20s and 30s.
The footage circulated for a decade among "Scorpions" and Serb nationalist circles and could even be rented in video clubs in the small town of Sid, some 60 miles west of Belgrade, where most of paramilitaries in the video lived.
It was found by a Serbian human rights activist and presented before the international war crimes tribunal in the trial against Serbia's late leader Slobodan Milosevic on 1 July 2005. The footage was aired on most television stations in the region, shocking people across the Balkans.
The video was deemed particularly shocking in Serbia, where many still believed the Milosevic-era propaganda that the massacre in 1995 never happened. In Bosnia, it led to the identification of at least one victim by his family, who saw the video on television.
The remains of the victims were exhumed from a mass grave in April 1999. The DNA analysis and the video led to the positive identification of three: Safet Fejzic, 17, Azmir Alispahic, 17, and Sidik Salkic, 36. The others were later named as Smail Ibrahimovic, 35, and Sakib Saltic, 20, while the identity of sixth victim still remains unknown.
Family members criticised the length of the sentences yesterday. "These people will leave prison one day, but my child will never come out from the ground," said Nura Alispahic, whose son Azmir, 17, was one of the victims. Munira Subasic, the head of the Mothers of Srebrenica association, said the sentencing provided "no justice for victim... This was the humiliation of victims."
The first Srebrenica-related sentencing in Belgrade came only months after the International Court of Justice said Serbia was not guilty for genocide in 1992-95 war in Bosnia.
The court ruled it did nothing to prevent the most serious crime of genocide, which happened solely in the area of eastern enclave of Srebrenica. The ruling led to disappointment and outrage in Bosnia.
Serbia continues to defy international demands to surrender the man named as the main culprit in the Srebrenica genocide, the former Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic. He has yet to be handed over to the international war crimes tribunal despite repeated requests and is believed to have been hiding somewhere in Serbia, or in his native Herzegovina village of Kalinovik, for more than a decade now.Reuse content