The grey-haired man in the courtroom on Wednesday looked nowhere near the powerful politician who once stood in front of Bosnia’s parliament, threatening the country’s Muslims with extinction.
Radovan Karadzic, a psychiatrist, poet and founder of the Serb Democratic Party (SDS), looked old and tired as the judge confirmed the first instance verdict from 2016 but changed the sentence.
This was the end of his trial and of a long journey.
Karadzic became in 1992 the first President of Republika Srpska (RS), a ‘state’ declared by the Bosnian Serbs after they rebelled against the decision of the majority of Bosnians to secede from rump Yugoslavia, which Slovenia and Croatia had already left.
That parastate was made up of Bosnian territories they took control of at the start of Bosnia’s 1992-95 war that took over 100,000 lives. Supported by neighbouring Serbia, Bosnian Serbs under his reign expelled almost the entire non-Serb population from those once ethnically mixed territories.
While doing so, their forces committed the worst crimes seen on European soil since WWII – crimes against humanity and genocide.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) charged him and Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic in 1995 with crimes against humanity, violations of laws of war, grave violations of Geneva Conventions and unlawful transfer of civilians on religious and national grounds.
Karadzic evaded justice until he was arrested in Belgrade in 2008 where he lived disguised as a new age healer under the name of Dragan Dabic. Sporting a thick beard, glasses, and long hair tied up in a knot on the top, he was unrecognisable.
But the initial public disbelief subsided once Karadzic appeared in court, shaven and with his hair cut to the usual length.
The trial commenced on October 26, 2009, and judges heard 586 in-court testimonies. Prosecutors exposed the ‘energy healer’ as one of the brains behind the violent ethnic cleansing of millions as well as genocide over thousands of residents of the eastern enclave of Srebrenica.
The crime was labelled as the worst crime in Europe since the Holocaust.
Karadzic and Mladic became symbols of the terror Sarajevans were exposed to during the years-long siege of the capital – the longest in the history of modern warfare.
The ICTY sentenced Karadzic to 40 years in prison in 2016 for crimes against humanity, including the ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks and Croats, the siege of Sarajevo, the Srebrenica genocide and for taking UN peacekeepers hostage. He was acquitted of genocide in other municipalities in Bosnia.
Karadzic's defence team called the trial unfair and called for a retrial but was rejected. Karadzic also personally addressed the Court, describing the crimes he was convicted of as a “myth” and claiming he was just a poet.
Both Karadzic and the prosecution appealed the 2016 judgement.
But the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT), the court which took over the unfinished job of the ICTY once it closed its doors in 2017, on Wednesday handed down the final ruling.
Karadzic will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
He had spent years digging through documents and preparing his defence out of his prison cell but then said nothing and only took his glasses off when the judge pronounced the verdict.
The man who in 1992 warned Muslims not to opt for independence from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia as this would “take Bosnia and Herzegovina towards hell, and the Muslim people maybe towards extinction,” had nothing to say.