A UN war crimes court convicted two Bosnian Serb cousins on Monday 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.
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 his cousin Sredoje Lukic aided and abetted in one of the blazes.
Witnesses “vividly remembered the terrible screams of the people in the house,” 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 Robinson pronounced sentence. Sredoje Lukic leaned back in his chair, his face blank.
Robinson, a veteran judge at the tribunal that has prosecuted Balkan war crimes for 15 years, sounded stunned by the atrocities.
“In the all-too-long, sad and wretched history of man’s inhumanity to man, the Pionirska street and Bikavac fires must rank high,” he said.
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.
They welcomed Monday’s verdicts, which can still be appealed.
“The prosecutor is satisfied with this decision because it reflects the gravity of the crimes committed and the responsibility of the accused,” spokeswoman Olga Karvan said. “The prosecutor would particularly like to acknowledge the courage demonstrated by the victims who came forward in this case and presented their evidence in court.”
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.”
Radmila Eric, a Serb woman living in Visegrad, dismissed the tribunal as “a political court formed to persecute Serbs.
“The judges are biased,” she said. “They deliver the worst sentences only to Serbs.”
Milan Lukic was also 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.
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.
One man was murdered in front of his wife and child. Two men survived by playing dead, and testified about their ordeal.
Milan Lukic led a paramilitary group known both as the “White Eagles” and the “Avengers,” which terrorized Muslims in Visegrad.
His cousin Sredoje was a local policeman and a member of the group.
Both were also convicted of cruelty for visiting a detention center to savagely beat Muslim inmates.