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Friday, 3 August, 2001, 18:21 GMT 19:21 UK
Court tense for Krstic verdict
Radislav Krstic
Krstic denied the charges and plans an appeal
By Geraldine Coughlan in The Hague

It was a historic day in courtroom number one at the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague when sentence was passed on Bosnian Serb General Radislav Krstic.

The court gave its first verdict of genocide and Krstic received a 46-year prison term.

The 53-year-old looked shocked and tense as the judge read out his conviction.

The women of Srebrenica did not betray any emotion in court

The atmosphere in the courtroom was heavy - the trial judge, Almiro Rodrigues, flanked by two other trial chamber judges, conducted the session with grave formality.

The prosecution and defence teams, members of the court registry, the clerks and stenographers - even the guards - listened attentively as the judge sifted through the disturbing facts and gruesome details of the sad saga of Srebrenica.

But there was an oppressive tension too on the other side of the bullet-proof glass, in the public gallery.

Relatives' reaction

There are limited places for observers in the gallery which can hold about 150 people.

But my colleague and I were lucky to be granted front row seats.

Mass war grave near Srebrenica
Srebrenica was Europe's worst massacre since World War II
Media representatives and legal experts sit on one side of the gallery, visitors on the other.

At the Krstic sentencing it was obvious that many of the women seated in the visitors' area were relatives of the victims of Srebrenica.

If anyone harboured feelings of tension at the court, it should have been the members of the association, "Women of Srebrenica", who travelled from Bosnia to witness the sentencing.

These are the women whose husbands, fathers, sons and brothers are still missing.

Many of them testified during the Krstic trial.

They did not betray any emotion in court but their body language showed they were following proceedings behind the glass wall intently.

The collective feeling of anticipation in the courtroom during the sentencing - which lasted over an hour - was mixed.

It ranged from expectations of justice being seen to be done to a sense of being part of history in the making.

Protesters' day off

The court's landmark ruling broke new ground in the field of international law, taking global justice a step forward.

Srebrenica survivor examines victims' clothing
The judge described thousands of "amputated" lives
The verdict means that future cases of genocide can now refer to the Krstic trial to determine how the charges can be applied to the facts.

Once the precedent was set, those present in courtroom one heaved a collective sigh of relief.

The tension began to abate.

The general mood as the occupants poured out of the courtroom was slightly more upbeat than when they entered.

One thing I did notice as I was leaving the tribunal, was that there was no demonstration outside.

The regular protesters who call for more arrests for the crimes at Srebrenica seemed to have taken some time out to grant this day to international justice, and wait until it needs another push forward before staging the next demonstration.

See also:

02 Aug 01 | Europe
Srebrenica judgement: Excerpts
03 Aug 01 | Europe
Genocide verdict: more to come?
02 Aug 01 | Europe
Q&A: Srebrenica massacre
13 Mar 00 | Europe
Srebrenica: A survivor's tale
05 Aug 00 | Europe
Mladic blamed for Bosnia massacre
02 Aug 01 | Europe
Bosnian Muslim officers arrested
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