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The UN-backed war crimes court on Wednesday rejected an appeal by Tolimir, the former intelligence chief of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Main Headquarters, against his conviction for genocide against thousands of Bosniak men and boys from Srebrenica in July 1995.
Tolimir, who was a close aide to Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic, crossed himself as the verdict was handed down.
However the Hague Tribunal’s appeals chamber acquitted him of genocide in Zepa, another UN-protected ‘safe area’ at the time.
The court ruled that the killings of three Bosniak leaders from Zepa did not prove Tolimir guilty of genocide because “sufficient evidence was not presented as to the consequences of the killings on the Muslim population”.
“For conviction, the appeals chamber would require proof that the killings resulted in significant psychological pain, but such evidence was not presented,” said presiding judge Theodor Meron.
Meron added however that despite the acquittal, the appeals chamber found that the Bosniak population of Zepa was the victim of genocide.
Tolimir was also acquitted of committing genocide through the forcible expulsion of women, men and elderly people from Zepa after it fell to Serb troops.
“If viewed separately from the killings, the forcible transfer cannot be viewed as a tool to destroy a group. The appeals chamber is convinced there was a plan to expel the Muslim population but there is insufficient proof that the policy was aimed at destroying the group,” said Meron.
Tolimir was further acquitted of the killings of six men in Trnovo, which were committed by the Scorpions paramilitary unit.
Despite the overturning of some of the convictions, Meron said that the life sentence should stand because of the gravity of Tolimir’s crimes.
During the original trial, the presiding judge said that Tolimir was “the right hand man of the Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic and sometimes knew more than Mladic himself”.
“The accused had knowledge and was aware of the genocidal intent of the Bosnian Serb leadership and was responsible for genocide,” the judge said.
However Tolimir insisted at the original trial that he was simply conducting an operation against “terrorist groups”.
After the signing of the Dayton peace agreement in 1995, which ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Tolimir was briefly an adviser to Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic, who was also convicted of war crimes.
He then retired from the army and was subsequently indicted in 2005. He was detained in 2007 after having been on the run for two years.