Ex-Bosnian Serb commander Mladic convicted to life in prison for genocide

Bosnian Serb wartime military chief Ratko Mladic gives a thumb up as he enters the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal for the verdict hearing in his genocide trial in The Hague, Netherlands, no 22 November 2017. [Peter Dejong/POOL]

A U.N. tribunal convicted on Wednesday (22 November) former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladić of genocide and crimes against humanity committed in Bosnia, including Europe’s worst atrocity since World War II, and sentenced him to life in prison.

The U.N. Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) found Mladić guilty of 10 of 11 charges, including the slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica and the siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, in which more than 11,000 civilians were killed by Serb shelling and sniper fire over 43 months.

The men and boys in Srebrenica, a UN-designated safe area patrolled by a lightly armed Dutch battalion, were separated from women in July 1995 and taken away in buses or marched off to be shot over several days, in what amounted to the biggest single massacre on European soil since 1945.

“The crimes committed rank among the most heinous known to humankind, and include genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity,” Presiding Judge Alphons Orie said in reading out a summary of the judgment.

“Many of these men and boys were cursed, insulted, threatened, forced to sing Serb songs and beaten while awaiting their execution,” the judge said.

Mladić, the most notorious of the ICTY’s cases along with ex-Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadžić and late Serbian President Slobodan Milošević, had pleaded not guilty to all charges and is expected to appeal against his conviction. Karadzić was last year sentenced to 40 years while Milošević died in prison before the end of his trial.

In its summary, the tribunal found Mladić “significantly contributed” to the genocide committed in Srebrenica with the goal of destroying its Muslim population, “personally directed” the long bombardment of Sarajevo and was part of a “joint criminal enterprise” intending to purge Muslims and Croats from Bosnia.

In Geneva, U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein called Mladić the “epitome of evil” and said his conviction after 16 years as an indicted fugitive and over four years of trial was a “momentous victory for justice”.

“The prosecution of Mladic is the epitome of what international justice is all about,” Zeid said in a statement. “Today’s verdict is a warning to the perpetrators of such crimes that they will not escape justice, no matter how powerful they may be nor how long it may take.”

Aleksandar Vučić, the president of Serbia whose late nationalist strongman Milosević had been Mladić’s patron, said Serbia “respects the victims” and called for a focus on the future.

“I would like to call on everyone (in the region) to start looking into the future and not to drown in tears of the past… We need to look to the future…so we finally have a stable country,” Vučić told reporters when asked about the verdict.

The “Butcher of Bosnia” to his enemies, Mladić is still seen as a national hero by some Serbs for leading the swift capture of 70 percent of Bosnia, after its Serbs rose up against a Muslim-Croat declaration of independence from Yugoslavia.

The prosecutors said the ultimate plan pursued by Mladić, Karadžić and Milošević was to purge Bosnia of non-Serbs – a strategy that became known as “ethnic cleansing” – and carve out a “Greater Serbia” in the ashes of federal Yugoslavia’s disintegration.

Serbia, once the most powerful Yugoslav republic, has set about democratic reforms since overthrowing Milosevic in 2000 and is seeking to become a member of the EU, like the other five countries of the Western Balkans.

Bosnian Prime Minister Denis Zvizdić said he hoped that “those who still call for new divisions and conflicts will carefully read the verdict rendered today …in case that they are still not ready to face their past”.

He was alluding to persistent separatism in Bosnia’s autonomous Serb region, set up by the 1995 Dayton peace accord.