Ratko Mladić, the wartime Bosnian Serb commander dubbed the “butcher of Bosnia”, lost the final appeal in the genocide conviction against him before the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (MICT) in The Hague on Tuesday (8 June), prompting a wide range of reactions in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia.
Serbian tabloids called Mladić a hero, splashing huge photos of the former Republika Srpska Army commander on their first pages.
Tabloid Informer said “Mladić is the Serbian Hero Forever”.
“Hague injustice: Don’t touch our open wound”, titled Kurir, another tabloid pandering to the regime of Aleksandar Vučić.
Another tabloid, Objektiv, ran with “Courage and Defiance”, relating a tearful story about the meaning of a ring Mladić wears in prison.
A selection of tmrw’s front pages from Serbia’s regime controlled tabloids concerning the Mladic ruling: “Mladic forever a Serb hero” & similarity deranged snuff. As hurtful as this bile is to Bosnian Genocide survivors, it’s also robbing Serbia’s youth of a better future. pic.twitter.com/Vqo3TkXG8J
— Jasmin Mujanović (@JasminMuj) June 8, 2021
Mladić saw his appeal rejected against 2017 convictions for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against Muslims and Croats during the 1992-95 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
According to the verdict, Mladić was a key protagonist in a joint criminal enterprise with the objective of permanently and violently removing Muslim and Croats from large portions of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s territory to achieve Serbian domination.
The MICT’s chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, said on Tuesday that “it is time to accept the truth”, calling Mladić “one of the most infamous war criminals in modern history” in a statement posted on the court’s website.
The chief prosecutor said “all responsible officials in the former Yugoslavia and entire world should condemn him,” noting that this “is not a conviction against the Serb people, whom Mladić and his sympathizers manipulated for decades.”
Serbs remain defiant
In Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), the media featured headlines like “Criminal Ratko Mladić’s Sentencing to Life in Prison Confirmed,” with a photograph and caption reading “Guilty!.” The media also noted that Mladić had not been convicted of genocide in six municipalities in Bosnia and that the court confirmed the remaining nine counts of the indictment.
However, the Serb chairman of BiH’s tripartite presidency, Milorad Dodik, said the international tribunal’s ruling was yet more proof that the Hague tribunal “administered selective justice” and thus spread mistrust among the peoples of BiH.
“What kind of justice is this when Naser Orić, Ante Gotovina, Atif Dudaković and many others who committed war crimes against Serbs watch this trial as free men, protected by the mechanism of international injustice,” said Dodik, referring to Muslim and Croat army commanders who had been charged and acquitted by the UN war crimes tribunal.
“Efforts are being made to make a myth out of the Srebrenica genocide, while no genocide occurred,” Dodik added, referring to the single biggest atrocity of the Bosnian war, the massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb troops commanded by Mladić.
Conversely, the BiH presidency’s Bosniak member, Šefik Džaferović, said Mladić would always be a synonym of war crimes “and nothing else”.
“What is important is that the crimes he committed were called what they really are,” said Džaferović, adding that the trials conducted by the Hague tribunal proved beyond any doubt that the war led by Mladić and Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadžić was a joint criminal enterprise aimed at ethnic cleansing.
He also called for the opening of 800 war crimes cases referred to BiH’s prosecutor’s office by the Hague tribunal, for which the alleged perpetrators are still awaiting prosecution.
The Croatian government said in a press release that it considers the “harshest sentence of life imprisonment for Ratko Mladić” to be “appropriate”.
However, the government noted its disappointment that “the final verdict did not establish the participation of the highest officials of the Republic of Serbia in a joint criminal enterprise resulting in the commission of the gravest violations of international humanitarian law.”
The government also expressed regret and dissatisfaction since “Mladić was not indicted and convicted for numerous crimes committed during the aggression on the Republic of Croatia, where he started his bloody campaign, continuing it in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
Meanwhile, the Russian Envoy to the UN said the final Mladić verdict is the continuation of a politicised approach toward (ex) Yugoslavia.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, speaking before the UN Security Council on Tuesday, also referred to the “selective justice” of international trials, and added:
“I have a message for our citizens: Hold your heads up, neither Serbia nor the Serbian people have been convicted of anything”.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]