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14th Aug 2022

Mladic found guilty for Bosnia genocide and war crimes

  • Remains of the Srebrenica's victims are still being collected in the hills around the Bosnian town (Photo: Cropix)

A UN court on Wednesday (22 November) found Bosnian Serb wartime commander Ratko Mladic guilty of genocide and war crimes committed during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, in a dramatic climax of efforts to bring justice for victims of the wars in the former Yugoslavia.

The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) found Mladic guilty on 10 out of 11 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the indiscriminate shelling of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo and the 1995 slaughter of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys around Srebrenica.

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  • Srebrenica today still shows the scars of the war (Photo: Eric Maurice)

The court found that he had made a "significant contribution" to the persecution and extermination of Bosniaks and Croats in the country.

Judge Alphons Orie said Mladic deliberately terrorised the population of Sarajevo with a campaign of shelling and sniper attacks. His goal was, the court said, to drive out Muslims and Croats to create "ethnically clean" territories.

Mladic was acquitted – in line with earlier rulings by the court – of committing genocide in six other Bosnian municipalities in 1992.

The 74-year-old Mladic, also known as the 'Butcher of Bosnia', was sentenced to life in prison.

Outburst

In Bosnia, survivors and victims wept as the verdict was broadcast live on TV and the internet, local media reported.

But the former general did not save the survivors and victims from more drama as his verdict was about to be read.

Just before his responsibility in the genocide and war crimes was detailed, he requested to go to the bathroom - which resulted in a 40 minute break of deliberations.

"Lies! Shame on you!," Mladic shouted in the courtroom upon returning, after his lawyer's request to halt the reading of the verdict due to Mladic's high blood pressure was denied.

Following his outburst, Mladic was removed from the courtroom.

His 523-day trial featured 500 witnesses and 10,000 pieces of evidence. After 1995 he went on the run, and was hiding in a cousin's house in a village near Belgrade when he was finally caught in May 2011.

Last year former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was found guilty of genocide, and crimes against humanity. He was sentenced to 40 years in jail. Like Mladic, Karadzic had been hiding in plain sight in Serbia.

The ICTY was set up in 1993 to try people suspected of committing war crimes during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, and has convicted 83 people. It will close down in December.

A European Commission spokeswoman said the EU does not comment on individual judgements, but the the it "fully respect[s] the decisions of the ICTY and support[s] its work."

She said in a statement that the judgement "touches upon some of the darkest, most tragic events" in Bosnia and Europe, and that "delivering justice and fighting impunity for the most horrific crimes is a fundamental human obligation."

Europe's responsibility

The Mladic verdict might bring closure to some of the victims and survivors, but it highlights the existing ethnic and political tensions that threaten to break Bosnia apart.

In Bosnia, Mladic is still treated as a hero in some of the Serbian part of the coutry.

The tripartite power-sharing structure in Bosnia based on the three ethnic groups of Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Muslims, has been in place since the 1995 Dayton peace accord.

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik wants to pull the Republika Srpska out of Bosnia-Herzegovina. He relies on Russia as an ally.

Adding to the tensions, the Bosniak president, Bakir Izetbegovic, in the triparite power-sharing presidency which runs Bosnia, has recently advocated for Bosnian recognition of Kosovo, which broke away unilaterally from Serbia in 2008, provoking Serbian nationalists.

"The outcome of the Mladic trial is symbolically and politically important," Judy Dempsey, analyst with the Carnegie Europe think tank in Berlin told EUobserver.

"The question is not about closure anymore, it is about the mess that Bosnia is still in today," she said, adding that Bosnia is being pulled apart by influences coming from Serbia, Croatia, Saudi Arabia and "Russian meddling".

"There is a non-peace: corruption, dysfunctional institutions, and an intellectual unwillingness from the EU side to deal with the status quo, to revisit Dayton, which has outlived its usefulness," Dempsey said.

She added that the EU should better support grassroots and civil organisations, activists, the independent media and help set up a new political constellation.

"Reconciliation won't happen until power is maintained by the oligarchs and those interested in the status quo," Dempsey said.

Bosnia is a "potential candidate" country for membership in the EU.

"Bosnia is never going to be high on the list of EU priorities, but it is Europe's responsibility, not the US's, not the Russians, not the Saudis, not the Chinese's responsibility," Dempsey said.

UN envoy to Bosnia Valentin Inzko earlier this month warned that resurgent nationalism is threatening the country.

"As progress on economic and political reforms has significantly slowed down over the last ten years, divisive nationalism and persistent challenges to the peace agreement and the institutional arrangements provided for under that agreement have threatened to take the country backwards," he said.

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Bosnian Serb war general Ratko Mladic, charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and the killing of thousands of civilians in Srebrenica, was arrested on Thursday in Serbia. The move is likely to boost the Serbian government's efforts to move further on the EU path.

'Demotivated, disillusioned' Bosnians head to polls

Sunday's election - in one of the most complex political systems in the world - sees many Bosnia's worry the EU has already given up hope on them. Fears of electoral fraud are unlikely to help.

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