SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — A court in Bosnia on Friday convicted a Montenegrin man of multiple counts of murder, torture, rape and looting during Bosnia's 1992-95 war, and sentenced him to 45 years in prison — the highest sentence ever issued in the country.
Judge Zoran Bozic said that Veselin Vlahovic, killed 31 people, raped a number of Bosniak and Croat women and tortured and robbed non-Serb residents of a Sarajevo suburb while fighting for the Bosnian Serbs. Among other crimes, the judge described how Vlahovic cut the throats of two brothers in front of their mother, then killed her and raped the men's wives.
“We are happy with the maximum sentence,” said Boris Grubisic, the spokesman for the Prosecutor's office.
He said that during the trial some of the 112 witnesses described the rape of women late in their pregnancies and mothers being raped in front of their children. Grubisic said that Vlahovic committed the crimes over several months. Although he received the maximum sentence, the prosecution still plans to appeal because he was acquitted on six counts.
Vlahovic's layer Radivoje Lazarevic said he also will appeal the sentence because he believes that some of the 60 counts on which Vlahovic was convicted were not proven.
In 1992, when Bosnian Serb forces laid siege to Sarajevo, they mistreated non-Serb residents of the areas that they controlled. Vlahovic was the commander of a paramilitary unit that went from house to house looking for Muslims and Catholics, then looted their homes, tortured and often killed entire families.
Vlahovic, 43, appeared occasionally bored as the judge spent two hours reading horrific details from the verdict.
He said that in most cases, Vlahovic and his gang entered people's apartments, asked for money and gold, promising not to kill in return — a promise they often didn't keep.
After the robbery, women were raped and men beaten and tortured. Some were killed on the spot or driven off in a car after, never to be seen again.
“Everything was followed by extremely arrogant and brutal behavior, which led the witnesses to remember him as the Monster of Grbavica,” judge Bozic said.
Vlahovic showed no reaction when the judge pronounced the verdict.
Bakira Hasecic, the head of an association of victims of wartime rape, said the sentence was the best satisfaction that has so far come out of Bosnia's war crimes court, but added that Vlahovic was such a monster that even the maximum sentence was not enough for him.
Vlahovic fled to neighboring Serbia and Montenegro after the war. He was jailed in Montenegro for armed robbery but escaped from prison. Spanish police then found him in 2010 living in the town of Altea. He was extradited to Bosnia the same year although he is also wanted in Spain for robbery and assault with a firearm.
The war crimes department of the Bosnian State Court was established in 2005 to take some of the burden from the overcrowded U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, based in The Hague.
Foreign and domestic judges and prosecutors have processed about 100 cases of war crimes, including genocide, in accordance with international standards and under the monitoring of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.