Ratko Mladic’s genocide conviction in UN court over Srebrenica massacre upheld


United Nations war crimes judges on Tuesday upheld a genocide conviction and life sentence against former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic, rejecting all grounds of his appeal against a lower tribunal’s verdict.

He had been convicted by trial and ordered to serve life in prison on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, but appealed against both the verdict and sentence.

The appeals chamber “dismisses Mladic appeal in its entirety … dismisses the prosecution’s appeal in its entirety … affirms the sentence of life imprisonment imposed on Mladic by the trial chamber,” said a written summary of the appeals judgment.

The verdict caps 25 years of trials at the ad hoc International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which convicted 90 people. The ICTY is one of the predecessors of the International Criminal Court, the world’s first permanent war crimes court, also seated in The Hague.

Mladic was dubbed the “Butcher of Bosnia” for terrorizing the capital Sarajevo with a 43-month siege and presiding over the 1995 massacre of up to 8,000 Muslims in a United Nations-designated “safe area,” Europe’s worst atrocity since the Second World War.

Ideas53:59Reconciliation, Part Two: No Way Home

In Bosnia, there are facts about the genocide but little acceptance of their truth by Serb aggressors. For Bosniaks, genocide denial means they are stuck in a violent past with little prospect for release. This is part two of a three-part series on genocide, truth, and reconciliation. 53:59

The Srebrenica slaughter was the grisly culmination of a 3-1/2-year war in which nationalist Bosnian Serb forces under Mladic pounded Sarajevo daily with artillery, tanks, mortars and heavy machine guns, killing 10,000.

The dead from Srebrenica were bulldozed into mass graves over four days in July 1995, some of which were dug up and relocated to remote mountains to hide evidence of the killings.

The goal, as determined by the ICTY, was “ethnic cleansing” — the forcible expulsion of Bosnian Muslims, Croats and other non-Serbs to clear Bosnian lands for a Greater Serbia.

‘I do not recognize this court’

The tribunal, in a judgment upheld by appeals judges on Tuesday, found that Mladic together with late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic and Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic were part of a criminal conspiracy.

“I do not recognize this court,” Mladic said at a hearing in The Hague in 2018. When he was sentenced to life in prison in 2017 on charges if genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, he shouted: “This is all lies, you are all liars!”

WATCH | Mladic reacts in 2017 to sentencing:

Former Serbian military commander found guilty of war crimes in The Hague 2:18

Karadzic, also convicted of genocide in 2016, and Mladic topped the ICTY wanted list for years after Western powers ended the war in 1995. Mladic lived securely, if discreetly, in Belgrade until a popular uprising toppled Milosevic in 2000.

Milosevic died in detention on March 11, 2006, a few months before a verdict in his own four-year tribunal trial. Karadzic is serving out his life sentence in a British prison.

“For me Mladic is a symbol of all the horrible crimes that happened during the war — our girls were raped, and boys killed, only because they were Muslim. Germans had Hitler, Serbs have Mladic,” said Munira Subasic, whose son and husband were killed by Bosnian Serb forces that overran Srebrenica.

“I watched him in the courtroom and he was proud of everything he had done. I saw no regrets on his face.”

The army Mladic created to fight against Bosnia’s 1992 secession from Serbian-led Yugoslavia was a model of ruthlessness and brutality.

Some of its prisoners suffocated in the heat after being forced to eat salt and refused water. Others were starved and raped in prison camps, made to jump off a bridge and shot or gunned down at night by the hundreds after being driven out of detention with gas.

Mladic had a cameraman film his blitz on the encircled enclave of Srebrenica, showing him haranguing Dutch UN peacekeepers who misguidedly accepted his solemn word that the inhabitants would be safe in his hands.

“We give this town to the Serb people as a gift,” he said to the camera, claiming the victory as revenge against Muslim Turks, who once held the area as part of the Ottoman Empire.

Bosnian Muslim women watch a television broadcast Tuesday of the final verdict of former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic, in the Srebrenica-Potocari Genocide Memorial Center, Bosnia and Herzegovina. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

The next day, Mladic’s forces were filmed handing out sweets to children, promising their safe passage, while at the same time thousands of men and boys were being readied for execution.

When NATO tried in 1995 to rein in his forces with the threat of air strikes, his troops defiantly seized UN peacekeepers as human shields, chaining them to likely targets.

Mladic chosen to command Bosnian Serb army

Mladic was an officer in the old communist Yugoslav Federal Army (JNA) when the country began to break up in 1991.

When Bosnian Serbs rose in 1992 against Bosnia’s Muslim-led secession, Mladic was picked to command a new Bosnian Serb army that swiftly overran 70 per cent of the country.

Towns were besieged with heavy weapons that once belonged to the JNA. Villages were burned as 22,000 troops of a UN Protection Force stood by, with orders not to take sides.

Some of his supporters say Mladic had become even more ruthless after his daughter Ana killed herself with Mladic’s trophy gun in 1994.

A combination of Western pressure and covert American arms and training for Bosnian Muslims and Croats gradually turned the tide against Mladic’s army. Precision NATO strikes did the rest.

Yet many nationalist Serbs still regard him as a hero for cutting casualties on their side and trying to unite their people in one country.

“Ratko Mladic remains a legend for Serb people and a man who has put his professional and human capabilities in the service of the freedom of the Serb people,” current Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik said.

In June 2019, Mladic’s lawyer said his client was suffering from deteriorating brain function and cardiovascular trouble after a heart attack in 2013. “There is a great risk of a new stroke and a new heart attack,” Branko Lukic said.

In convicting him for the siege of Sarajevo and Srebrenica, the 2,500-page war crimes verdict said Mladic’s acts were “so instrumental to the commission of the crimes that without them, the crimes would not have been committed as they were.”



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