The last verdict: Mladic gets life in prison

Written by on November 22, 2017 in Europe - Comments Off on The last verdict: Mladic gets life in prison

International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has done its job. Today’s verdict in a high profile case ends the endeavour which began on May 25, 1993, when UN Security Council established the tribunal. This happened when Slobodan Milošević’s war of conquest in Bosnia and Herzegovina was still going on.

After trying to conquer Slovenia, which had declared independence due to Belgrade’s dominance, Milošević sent the Yugoslav Army and his militias, which were basically gangs of murderers, to Croatia. The kinds of atrocities committed against civilians in Vukovar, Osijek and elsewhere were unimaginable, until then.

The hordes of killers sent from Belgrade drove over people’s heads with trucks, they raped and then shot women and children in villages, and they starved out men in establishments which do deserve to be called concentration camps, because that is what they were.

Once the so-called Krajina Serbs had occupied what they saw as their areas in Slavonia, they attacked Dubrovnik and later Zagreb with missiles. The Croatian Army later drove them out. Radical Croatian leaders and gangs also fought and murdered Bosnian Muslim civilians in Mostar and other areas. Therefore, the ICTY also indicted some Croatians for war crimes.

Ratko Mladić at the ICTY in The Hague.

Shortly before turning his troops and killers towards Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slobodan Milošević, who had announced “many battles” in his infamous Kosovo speech a few years before, and who died in his The Hague jail cell in 2006, was interviewed by CNN’s Larry King and declared this: “All sides are guilty.”

That statement may have been accurate in the sense that his wars of conquest motivated Croatian radicals too. But of course it tried to conceal his main responsibility in the bloodshed, which he, his followers and his thugs created.

One of his main thugs was General Ratko Mladić, also known as the ‘Butcher of the Balkans’. He ordered the worst genocidal slaughter since the Holocaust. It happened in Srebrenica, on July 11, 1995, and the following days. Mladic and his men murdered virtually all boys and men from that town, a total of 8,373 Muslim Bosnians.

The victims of Srebenica were buried in mass graves, which were later opened by investigators. The time had come “to take revenge on the Muslims”. That is what Mladić told his soldiers in Srebenica.

Srebenica was supposed to be a UN Safe Haven, but it obviously was not. The outnumbered Dutch peacekeepers on site were outnumbered by the Serb Army multiple times, and their call for immediate air strikes, just before Mladić marched in, was ignored.

The prosecution also accused him of having ordered the constant firing of shells, grenades and rifle bullets at Bosnia’s capital Sarajevo and its inhabitants for three years, from 1992 to 1995. More than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed.

The Serbian siege of Sarajevo had to be opened by force. In September of 1995, NATO finally did what had to be done. The alliance bombed away the Serbian military, along with their heavy weapons, from the air, while the residents in the city centre applauded. The liberation took place, but it should have happened much earlier.

Srebenica and Sarajevo are only two of countless counts against Ratko Mladić. On May 26, 2011, seventeen years after the last civilian was murdered in that terrible war, Mladić was finally arrested. Five days later, he was transferred in The Hague. The initial indictment against him was dated July 25, 1995.

On November 16, 1995, twenty-two years ago, almost to the day, both Mladić and his accomplice Radovan Karadžić, the former leader of the Bosnian Serbs, were indicted for genocide. Genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war.

The complete list of accusations against Mladić included eleven counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

With today’s verdict, life imprisonment, the Mladić case is closed. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is now done. It was the last verdict, and one of the most important ones.

Dragan Nikolić, another Serbian war criminal, got the ICTY’s first indictment in November of 1994. The first trial commenced in 1996. On May 24, 1999, the President of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milošević, was indicted by the ICTY. It was the first indictment against a sitting head of state. In 2001, the first genocide conviction was handed down against the Bosnian Serb Army officer Radislav Krstić.

The tribunal had to deal with some of the most terrible crimes ever committed, including genocide and the systematic rape of Bosnian women. The importance of the ICTY could not have been higher, not only to the sisters, mothers, grandmothers and wives of Srebrenica and the families of other victims, but also for the world to see.

Genocide and ethnic cleansing will not be accepted by the world community. This is the message the ICTY wanted to bring across.

The author of this article, Imanuel Marcus, reported about the Bosnian war from Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia, for German and Swiss radio, from 1992 until 1996.

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