The “Butcher of Bosnia” was put on trial at the UN court in a historic move sentencing him to life in prison. Ratko Mladic, the 78 year old former Bosnian Serb commander, had his final appeal for crimes against humanity and genocide rejected on June 8th 2021.
Anna Holligan, a reporter and Hague respondent for the BBC writes “The massacre, in an enclave supposed to be under UN protection, was the worst atrocity in Europe since World War Two.” (More details on the massacre and a brief history of the Yugoslavia Wars will come in part two of this article.)
Ratko Mladic was first arrested in 2011 after 16 years on the run. The “Butcher of Bosnia” is the last one to face trials for the Srebrenica massacre. The same court also convicted former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic for planning the Srebrenica massacre and other crimes. The massacre killed 8,000 Bosnian Muslim (Bosniak) men and boys in Srebrenica (a town in eastern Bosnia) in 1995.
This conviction was held by the United Nations’ International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. The leading judge on his conviction is a Zambian woman– Prisca Matimba Nyambe who “has booked a place in legal history books for presiding over one of the most significant appeal chamber hearings on genocide and crimes against humanity” writes Julian Borger.
Mladic was facing 10 criminal charges, including: extermination, forcible transfers, terror, hostage-taking and unlawful attacks on civilians. Reporters write that he showed little emotion as his appeals were rejected and a final court decision was made. He was the only person not wearing a mask during the conviction at the ICTY. The trial was recorded and broadcasted on several news channels, including a livestream on YouTube.
In a previous appeal hearing in August 2020, Mladic’s lawyers argued that he was far away from Srebrenica when the massacre happened. In 2017, Mladic was found guilty for genocide in Srebrenica, but the charges were lifted and he was acquitted over his army’s 1992 campaign. There have been many retrials since, including judge Nyambe dissenting with the chamber’s decisions as she read out Mladic’s crimes and sentence.
The five person defense lawyers of the “Butcher of Bosnia” in the appeals panel were unable to provide evidence that would invalidate the previous convictions against him, leading to the final verdict. On the other hand, the appeals chamber also dismissed other charges brought by the prosecution in which a second conviction against Mladic was presented over crimes committed against Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats in other areas during the Yugoslavia Wars.
In Ratko Mladic’s 2017 conviction, he shouted “this is all lies” and “I’ll f*ck your mother”, a strong contrast to his rather emotionless response to the final conviction last month. Mladic responded with “Yes I can”’ when he was asked whether he could follow through with the proceedings in the hearing.
Whilst this final conviction for Mladic’s crimes that occured over 25 years ago, brought hope and peace to the victim’s families, some people responded with outrage and supported Mladic. During the livestream of the court hearing, some people called Mladic a hero in the comment section. However, Joe Biden responded to the conviction by calling it a moment of hope.
“This historic judgment shows that those who commit horrific crimes will be held accountable. It also reinforces our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world.” Biden says.
The Guardian writes about Dominic Raab, the UK’s foreign secretary, who said that the judgment “helped puncture impunity for the worst international crimes imaginable”.
Munira Subasic, a mother, wife and relative to 24 members of her family that were victims of the genocide says that although justice has been served, as victims they are never completely satisfied. “This victory is not only for us but for all the mothers of Bosnia and Herzegovina whether they be Serb, Bosniak [Bosnian Muslims] or Croatian. Every mother suffers.” Subasic says after the final hearing.
Serge Brammertz, the former chief prosecutor at The Hague war crimes tribunal, who oversaw the capture of Mladić after 14 years on the run, and his prosecution says “[Mladic’s name] should be consigned to the list of history’s most depraved and barbarous figures”.
More on the massacre and the history of the Yugoslavia wars will come in a second part of this article. The next piece will provide more context to Ratko Mladic’s conviction, and information on one of the “worst atrocities in Europe since World War 2”.