The UN tribunal on war crimes in former Yugoslavia hands down its final verdict on Wednesday in the genocide trial of Ratko Mladic, the ex-Bosnian Serb general accused of ordering the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica.
Prosecutors demanded a life sentence for Mladic, 74, who had been the Serb military commander in Bosnia’s 1992-95 war and can also be charged with crimes against humanity over the siege of Sarajevo where 11,000 civilians died from shelling and sniper fire.
The Srebrenica slaughter was Europe’s worst atrocity since World War Two. Mladic confronted 11 charges in complete and pleaded not guilty to all of these. He’s expected to appeal if convicted.
Srebrenica, near Bosnia’s eastern border with Serbia, was designated a “safe place” by the United Nations and has been defended by lightly armed UN peacekeepers. But they immediately surrendered when Mladic’s forces stormed it on July 11, 1995.
The Dutch peacekeepers looked on helplessly as Serb forces separated boys and men from girls, then sent them out of sight on buses or marched them away to be taken.
A bronzed and burly Mladic was filmed visiting a refugee camp at Srebrenica on July 12. “He was giving off sweets and chocolate to the kids while the cameras were rolling, telling us nothing will happen and that we don’t have any reason to be fearful,” remembered Munira Subasic of the Mothers of Srebrenica group.
“Following the cameras left he gave an order to kill whoever could be murdered, rape whomever could be raped and eventually he ordered us to be banished and chased from Srebrenica, so he could create an ‘ethnically clean’ town,” she told Reuters.
The remains of Subasic’s son Nermin and husband Hilmo were found in mass graves by International Commission of Missing Persons (ICMP) employees. The ICMP have identified some 6,900 stays of Srebrenica victims through DNA analysis.
Mladic’s lawyers argued that his responsibility for murder and ethnic cleansing of civilians by Serb forces and allied paramilitaries was not established beyond reasonable doubt and he should find no more than 15 years if convicted.
The “Butcher of Bosnia” to his enemies, Mladic is still viewed as a national hero by compatriots for presiding over the swift capture of 70 percent of Bosnia following its Serbs rose up from a Muslim-Croat declaration of independence from Yugoslavia.
Prosecutors said the ultimate strategy pursued by Mladic, Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic was going to purge Bosnia of non-Serbs — a plan that became known as “ethnic cleansing” — and carve out a “Greater Serbia” from the ashes of old national Yugoslavia.
In arguing for Mladic to be imprisoned for life, prosecutor Alan Tieger said anything else “would be an insult to victims and an affront to justice”.
Mladic was indicted along with Karadzic in 1995, soon after the Srebrenica killings, but evaded capture until 2011.
His trial at The Hague took over four years in part due to delays because of his poor health and will be the final instance — barring appeals — to be heard by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
“From the legal point of view we expect the court to release the entire world,” Mladic’s son Darko told Reuters. “During the trial we’ve not seen any proof against him. What we’re concerned about today is his health.”
Mladic has suffered several strokes, though UN judges rejected a flurry of last-minute efforts by defence lawyers to put off the verdict on medical grounds.
But his attorneys faced an uphill battle, given that a mountain of evidence of Serb atrocities produced in prior trials. Four of Mladic’s subordinates have received life sentences, while Karadzic was detained in 2016 and sentenced to 40 years.
Milosevic, who defended himself, died in prison in 2006 before a verdict was reached in his case.
Mladic’s attorneys argued that Sarajevo was a valid military target as it had been the primary bastion of Muslim-led Bosnian government forces. They also claimed that Mladic left Srebrenica soon before Serb fighters started executing Muslim detainees and was shocked to find they had happened.
But, prosecutors contended that under war crimes law, even though Mladic didn’t directly order the killings, he ought to have known what his subordinates were doing, and could be responsible for failing to punish those who committed atrocities.
The ICTY indicted 161 individuals in all from Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo. It’s convicted 83, over 60 of these ethnic Serbs.
Courtesy: The Globe And Mail