22 November 2017, Ratko Mladić, the former commander of the Bosnian Serb army and one-time fugitive from international justice, has been sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague. The “Butcher of Bosnia” to his enemies and critics, Mladić was the most notorious of the ICTY’s 161 indictees, along with former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadžić and late Serbian President Slobodan Milosević. His goal, ICTY prosecutors said, was ethnic cleansing: the forcible extermination or expulsion of Muslims, Croats and other non-Serbs to clear Bosnian lands for a "Greater Serbia". The ICTY convicted Mladić of crimes it labelled as some of the "most heinous" in human history, in one of the highest profile war crimes cases since the post-World War Two Nuremberg trials of Germany's Nazi leadership.
As set out in the ICTY’s indictment, Ratko Mladić together with Radovan Karadžić was a key member of a joint criminal enterprise to permanently remove Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from the territory in Bosnia and Herzegovina claimed by Bosnian Serbs. As the most senior officer of the Bosnian Serb Army during the war, Ratko Mladić was the superior of Bosnian Serb Army members and other Serb forces integrated into or subordinated to the Bosnian Serb Army. As such, he had effective control over the forces who participated in the crimes alleged. Ratko Mladić is charged with planning, instigating and ordering each of the crimes. Ratko Mladić is charged with crimes that include; genocide, complicity in genocide of close to 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995, persecutions, deportation and inhumane acts of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats during the campaign to permanently remove such persons from the territory under the control of the forces of Republika Srpska, unlawfully inflicting terror upon civilians, cruel treatment, attacks on civilians in Sarajevo by Bosnian Serb forces under his command and control which resulted in the killing and wounding of thousands, including many women and children and finally the taking of UN military observers and peacekeeping personnel as hostages in May and June 1995.
The former general was charged with genocide for the slaughter of 8,000 unarmed Bosnian Muslim men and boys rounded up in the town of Srebrenica, and his forces' 43-month-long siege of Sarajevo in which thousands of civilians were killed by artillery, mortar, tank and sniper fire from the rugged hills ringing the capital. When Bosnia's Serbs rose up in response to a referendum for independence by Muslims and Croats, Mladić took over Belgrade's forces in Bosnia which swiftly overran 70 percent of the country with a combination of daring, ruthlessness and brutality.
Mladić faced 11 charges, two of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and four of violations of the laws or customs of war. He was cleared of one count of genocide, but found guilty of all other charges. The separate counts related to “ethnic cleansing” operations in Bosnia, sniping and shelling attacks on besieged civilians in Sarajevo, the massacre of Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica and taking UN personnel hostage in an attempt to deter Nato airstrikes.
In the middle of the proceedings Mladić stood up shouting in an angry outburst “this is all lies”. He was forcibly removed from the courtroom. The verdicts were read in his absence. Delivering the verdicts, presiding judge Alphons Orie said Mladić’s crimes “rank among the most heinous known to humankind and include genocide and extermination”. “Circumstances were brutal; those who tried to defend their homes were met with ruthless force. Mass executions occurred and some victims succumbed after being beaten. Many of the perpetrators who had captured Bosnian Muslims, showed little or no respect for human life or dignity”. Other victims were arrested, detained in detention facilities, often under inhumane living conditions, subjected to torture, beatings, rape and other acts of sexual violence. Mladić was instrumental to the commission of these crimes, the Chamber found, so much so that without his acts - they would not have been committed as they were. The judges therefore found that he significantly contributed to achieving the common objective of permanently removing Muslims and Croats from Serb-claimed territory in Bosnia and Herzegovina by committing the crimes. Mladić was found guilty of persecution, extermination, murder, deportation, and the inhumane act of forcible transfer.
The only charge Mladić was acquitted of was that of genocide in Bosnian municipalities outside Srebrenica. The chamber ruled that although Mladić was part of a joint criminal enterprise to carry out mass killings there, which represented crimes against humanity, they did not rise to the level of genocide because the victims did not represent a substantial proportion of the Bosnian Muslim population there.
The trial is one of the last to be heard by the ICTY, which is to be dissolved at the end of the year. Parties have the right to appeal the judgement. Mladić’s defence lawyer, Dragan Ivetic, announced that he would appeal against the convictions. The appeal proceedings will be carried out by the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (MICT).
Timeline: U.N. tribunal to give verdict in genocide trial of Ratko Mladić by Reuters (22 November 2017)
ICTY Trial Judgement Summary for Ratko Mladić (The Hague, 22 November 2017)[number of readers: 798]
Established as an ad hoc court, the Security Council endorsed the ICTY's completion strategy for a staggered and ordered closure, scheduled on 31 December 2017. A number of ICTY cases have been transferred to the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals.
The Security Council, by its Resolution 1966 (2010), established the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (“Mechanism” or “MICT”), formally referred to as the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, to carry out a number of essential functions of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. In accordance with its mandate, the Mechanism has assumed responsibility for, inter alia, the enforcement of sentences, administrative review, assignment of cases, review proceedings, appeal proceedings, contempt, requests for revocation of the referral of cases to national jurisdictions, the variation of witness protection measures, access to materials, disclosure, changes in classification of documents and requests for compensation and assignment of counsel. One of the Mechanism's ongoing cases is appeal case of KARADŽIĆ, Radovan (MICT-13-55), sentenced by an ICTY Trial Chamber to 40 years' imprisonment on 24 March 2016.
Previous PPL blog: Ratko Mladić's arrest and the ICTY (by E. Cameron, May 30, 2011)
A selection of relevant publications from the Peace Palace Library collection