Goran Jelisic, a ruthless Bosnian Serb executioner who proudly called himself "Adolf," was sentenced to 40 years in prison today by the Balkan war crimes tribunal in The Hague. The sentence was the stiffest imposed on any of the eight people thus far convicted of atrocities in the 1991-95 ethnic wars.
Jelisic, 31, stood silently in a courtroom this morning as Claude Jorda, the new presiding judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, read the names of Jelisic's victims and decried the "repugnant, bestial, sadistic nature" of the crimes of which he was convicted two months ago.
Prosecutors had called Jelisic "the face of genocide" practiced by Bosnian Serbs against Bosnian Muslims and Croats, but they failed to convince Jorda and two fellow judges that he understood his beating, torturing and killing of Muslims was part of an organized genocidal campaign.
A onetime farm mechanic, Jelisic was at 23 a henchman of Bosnian Serb military forces that swept into Brcko, a Muslim-majority town in northern Bosnia, in May 1992. He became a shift commander of the Bosnian Serbs' Luka detention camp--where hundreds of local Muslims and some Croats were detained--adopting the name Adolf in tribute to his role model, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
According to testimony at his trial this fall, he was feared by his mostly Muslim detainees because of his capricious morning selections of victims for violent interrogation and worse. Jorda described today how the victims were routinely beaten with truncheons and clubs, then taken outside by Jelisic and executed with two bullets to the neck from his silencer-equipped Skorpion pistol.
Jelisic pleaded guilty to killing 13 prisoners, but prosecutors painted a picture of dozens, even hundreds more Muslims and Croats who died at his orders before their bodies were dumped in a nearby river or crammed into refrigerator trucks and ferried to mass graves. One witness recalled Jelisic boasting that his most recent interrogation victim had been his "83rd case."
"The trial chamber considers that your scornful attitude toward your victims, your enthusiasm for committing the crimes, the inhumanity of the crimes and your dangerous nature . . . constitute especially aggravating circumstances," Jorda said in court today.
Jelisic was indicted by the tribunal in 1995, near the end of four years of ethnic warfare that raged across Croatia and Bosnia. He was arrested by U.N. peacekeeping troops in January 1998.
A three-judge panel headed by Jorda convicted Jelisic Oct. 19 on 31 counts of crimes against humanity and other war crimes, but it cleared him of charges of genocide, the most serious offense. Prosecutors had invested heavily in the Jelisic case in an effort to obtain their first genocide conviction stemming from the Balkan wars, producing a witness who reported hearing Jelisic say that "70 percent of Muslims should be killed and the other 30 percent beaten." Jelisic said as much in his testimony.
Deputy Prosecutor Graham Blewitt said the ruling on the genocide charges was "surprising, given Jelisic's own admissions that he wanted to kill as many Muslims as he could and then went about it in the most brutal way. Had he not made those admissions, we would likely not have brought the [genocide] charges."
Elaborating on the genocide charges, Jorda said prosecutors had not made a convincing case that Jelisic intended to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, religious or ethnic group--the legal standard for genocide.
A spokesman for chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said she "believes this is a good strong sentence. She's satisfied with it." He said the prosecutor would review the judge's statement before deciding whether to appeal the genocide ruling.
CAPTION: Goran Jelisic, called "the face of genocide" by prosecutors, was convicted on 31 counts.