Former General in the Yugoslav People's Army, Ratko Mladic, was arrested in Serbia on May 26, 2011. He was extradited to The Hague, Netherlands to stand trial for alleged war crimes. His arrest was linked to Serbian admission to the EU., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Radko Mladic set to stand trial for Bosnian war crimes, 17 years later
May 15, 2012
Former Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic at his initial appearance at the UN's Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague last year. Mladic is charged with genocide for his role in orchestrating atrocities in the 1992-95 Bosnian war.
THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS—Ratko Mladic is old and infirm, a shadow of the strutting Bosnian Serb general who once struck fear into the hearts of Muslims and Croats.
But physical weakness has not dimmed his belief in himself or his cause, or prompted a flicker of remorse over the war crimes for which he goes on trial in The Hague on Wednesday.
“The whole world knows who I am,” he told a pre-trial hearing last year. “I am General Ratko Mladic. I defended my people, my country . . . now I am defending myself.”
Now 70, Mladic faces a charge of genocide for the slaughter of 8,000 unarmed Bosnian Muslim men and boys from Srebrenica in July 1995, and the pitiless 1992-95 siege of Sarajevo, which killed more than 11,000.
Rights groups say Mladic’s trial is a warning to despots around the world that they will eventually face prosecution.
“Victims have waited nearly two decades to see Ratko Mladic in the dock,” said Param-Preet Singh, senior counsel in the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. “His trial should lay to rest the notion that those accused of atrocity crimes can run out the clock on justice.”
The 17 years it took to bring Mladic to trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia is a testament to the loyalty he inspired among Serbs and the power of their nationalist cause.
But as Serbia’s goal of integration with Europe overtook its defiance, he lost his comfortable protection. By the end he was reduced to sheltering, penniless and sick, in a cousin’s farmhouse.
Last year, Serbian forces arrested him near Belgrade and flew him to The Hague. He has been waiting for his trial in the same jail as his former political leader, Radovan Karadzic, who was arrested in 2008 and is now halfway through his own trial on almost identical charges.
“We would of course have preferred having both before the same judges, one being the political architect of the crimes allegedly committed, the other the military leader of this policy,” said the court’s Belgian chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz.
When Serbs rose up in 1992 against Bosnia’s Muslim-led secession, Mladic was picked to command the army that swiftly overran 70 per cent of the country. Bloodthirsty paramilitaries joined in the campaign, murdering, raping and mutilating, as 22,000 troops of the UN Protection Force stood by more or less helplessly with orders not to take sides.
Mladic had a cameraman film the blitz on the enclave of Srebrenica, showing him bronzed and fit at 53, haranguing the hapless Dutch UN peacekeepers who took his soldier’s word that the inhabitants would be safe.
Instead they were systematically executed in a massacre that took several days. Men and boys were separated from the women, stripped of identification, then shot. The dead were bulldozed into mass graves, then later dug up with excavators and hauled away in trucks to be better hidden from the world, in dozens of remote mass graves. More than 6,600 victims have since been identified by DNA tests.
It was the horrific culmination of a 3-1/2-year conflict with an alleged goal of “ethnic cleansing:” the extermination or expulsion of Muslims, Croats and other non-Serbs to clear Bosnian lands for a Greater Serbia.
Prosecutors say it was a conspiracy in which Mladic and Karadzic were aided and armed by the late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic.
Milosevic died of a heart attack in his cell in 2006 before tribunal judges could deliver verdicts in his trial. Survivors of the Bosnian war hope the same will not happen to Mladic, who suffered at least one stroke in hiding after his indictment.
“I want a verdict for Mladic so that the whole world will see that he is a war criminal and has committed the crimes in Bosnia,” said Kadefa Mujic, 42, from Srebrenica.
The tribunal’s president, Theodor Meron, on Tuesday rejected a last-ditch effort by Mladic to have the Dutch presiding judge replaced because of alleged bias and to delay the trial.
Mladic has waived the right to make a statement Wednesday and Thursday as prosecutors lay out an overview of their case. The first witness is due to testify May 29.
Brammertz said prosecutors will present testimony from more than 400 witnesses, though most of their testimony will take the form of written statements presented to judges. Prosecutors have 200 hours to present their case before Mladic begins his defence.
Mladic has refused to enter pleas to any of the 11 charges against him, but denies wrongdoing. He argues that his army was defending the Serb people in Bosnia.
Most Bosnian Serbs are convinced of his innocence. Or they say that even if he did commit atrocities, he was no worse than enemy commanders.
“I am a very old man and I am close to my end as far as my health is concerned,” Mladic told the tribunal last year. “It matters what kind of legacy I will leave behind, among my people.”
If he is ultimately convicted, Mladic faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
With files from Associated Press