THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- An international appeals court at The Hague has rejected former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic's appeals against his convictions of genocide and war crimes in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the 1990s, and has extended his 40-year sentence to life in prison.
However, the court rejected an appeal by prosecutors to overturn Karadzic's earlier acquittal on a second genocide charge related to the killings of Bosnian Muslims and Croats in 1992 in the territory of Republika Srpska.
The ruling is the final judgment on Karadzic's role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, his orchestration of a nearly four-year siege of Sarajevo, and war crimes committed in 20 Bosnian municipalities for which Karadzic was convicted in 2016.
The 73-year-old Karadzic was convicted of genocide in 2016 and initially sentenced to 40 years in prison for the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb forces.
He was also found guilty of leading a campaign of ethnic cleansing that forced Croats and Muslims out of Serb-claimed areas of Bosnia during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war -- including the siege of Sarajevo that resulted in the deaths of more than 10,000 people, about half of whom were civilians.
A lawyer for Karadzic, Goran Petronijevic, and politicians in the ethnic Serb-dominated Republika Srpska -- one of the two entities that make up Bosnia -- called the appeals ruling a "political" decision. The United States and the European Union urged all sides to respect the ruling and work toward reconciliation.
The March 20 ruling on Karadzic's appeals was issued by the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT), a United Nations court that is dealing with cases left over from the now-defunct trial court, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
Reading out the appeals court’s decision, Judge Vagn Joensen said Karadzic's sentence was increased to life imprisonment because "the 40-year sentence inadequately reflect[ed] the extraordinary gravity of Karadzic's crime as well as his central and instrumental participation in four joint criminal enterprises."
Joensen said Karadzic failed to refute the ICTY's conclusions about his intent to commit genocide.
The court ruled that the ICTY was correct to conclude that Karadzic participated in the Srebrenica massacre because he was in constant contact with people on the ground.
It said Karadzic also failed to prove that the trial court was mistaken when it concluded he was guilty of taking part in a joint criminal enterprise to terrorize the population of Sarajevo.
Regarding war crimes in 20 Bosnian towns and cities for which Karadzic was convicted, Joensen said Karadzic also failed to prove the trial court reached the wrong conclusions in its verdict.
Joensen said Karadzic simply listed "his own disagreements with the trial chamber" in his appeal.
Murat Tahirovic, the president of the Association of Victims and Witnesses of Genocide, told RFE/RL's correspondent at The Hague court that members of his organization were pleased with the court's ruling but also disappointed the prosecutors' appeal for a conviction on a second charge of genocide was rejected.
"He got a life sentence, life in prison," Tahirovic said. "Unfortunately, a genocide conviction for crimes in other municipalities has not been adjudicated. But in a nutshell, we got what we feel he must be judged for. And he received that verdict. Those are the facts that will remain."
Zeljko Komsic, the Croatian member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, told RFE/RL in Sarajevo that Karadzic's final verdict "presents partial satisfaction" to the relatives of genocide victims.
"Unfortunately, this verdict won't replace the pain and the trauma they survive," Komsic said. "Today, before everything, we have to keep in our minds the survivors and the families of genocide victims."
The Bosniak member of Bosnia's presidency, Sefik Dzaferovic, said that justice had been reached, but only partially.
"It hasn't been confirmed that the genocide, except in Srebrenica, happened in seven other municipalities in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The absence of legal qualification for genocide in Prijedor, Sanski Most, Kljuc, Vlasenica, Bratunac, Zvornik, Foca, as well as for the whole of Bosnia does not diminish the responsibility of the...perpetrators and the gravity of the crime."
Nemin Niksic, leader of Bosnia's Social Democratic Party, welcomed the court's ruling as "a major event for Bosnia and all its citizens, especially for the families of victims of aggression, genocide and other war crimes committed in Bosnia."
However, the ethnic Serbian member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, Milorad Dodik, warned that the judgment won't help reconciliation in the country.
"Republika Srpska for a long time has not had confidence in The Hague tribunal, and Radovan Karadzic's life sentence is a confirmation of that," he said.
A spokesman for Dodik's Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) denounced a "political falsification" of history.
In Zagreb, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic told the daily newspaper Vecernji List that "the verdict cannot give back the lives of tens of thousands of victims and alleviate the pain of their families and survivors. But it must serve as a permanent warning."
The U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo welcomed the verdict, saying that it "represents an important step toward holding to account those individuals responsible for the tremendous suffering of the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina, while providing some sense of justice and closure to victims and their families."
It urged "all parties to respect the court's verdict, and rededicate themselves to the continued reconciliation and peaceful coexistence."
A spokeswoman for the European Union's foreign-policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said that the bloc expected all leaders in the region to "refrain from any statements or actions casting doubt on the independence or the impartiality of the adjudication process."
"Reconciliation requires an honest and factual assessment of the past, coming from within societies and bringing together all parties to the conflict," the spokeswoman said in a statement.
Valentin Inzko, the high representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina, said that a judge's ruling "can't return the loved ones to the survivors, but it can offer them a certain dose of moral satisfaction."
"Confirming individual responsibility, and not the collective guilt, the judicial decision should bring relief to all honest people," said Inzko, who oversees the civilian implementation of the 1995 Dayton agreement that ended the Bosnian war.