Former Bosnian Serb army commander known as the butcher of Bosnia sentenced to life imprisonment more than 20 years after Srebrenica massacre
Ratko Mladi, 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 a UN tribunal at The Hague.
More than 20 years after the Srebrenica massacre and his first indictment by the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the soldier nicknamed the butcher of Bosnia has been found guilty of of multiple offences.
As he entered the courtroom, Mladi gave a broad smile and thumbs up to the cameras a gesture that infuriated relatives of the victims. His defiance shifted into detachment as the judgment began: Mladic played with his fingers and nodded occasionally, looking initially relaxed.
But the verdict was disrupted for more than half an hour when Mladi asked the judge for a bathroom break. After he returned, defence lawyers requested that proceedings be halted or shortened because of his high blood pressure. The judges denied the request. Mladic then stood up shouting this is all lies and was forcibly removed from the courtroom. The verdicts were read in his absence.
Mladi, now 74, was chief of staff of Bosnian Serb forces from 1992 until 1996, during the ferocious civil wars and ethnic cleansing that followed the break-up of the Yugoslav state.
He 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.
Delivering the verdicts, judge Alphons Orie said Mladics crimes rank among the most heinous known to humankind and include genocide and extermination.
He dismissed mitigation pleas by the defence that Mladic was of good character, had diminished mental capacity and was in poor physical health.
Relatives of victims flew into the Netherlands to attend the hearing, determined to see Mladi receive justice decades after the end of the war which claimed more than 100,000 lives. There were clashes between Bosniaks and Serbs outside the court.
Mladi was one of the worlds most wanted fugitives before his arrest in 2011 in northern Serbia. He was transferred to the ICTY in the Netherlands, where he refused to plead. A not guilty plea was eventually entered on his behalf. Through much of the trial in The Hague, he was a disruptive presence in court, heckling judges and on one occasion making a cut-throat gesture at the mother of one of the 8,000 victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.
The only charge Mladic was acquitted of was that of genocide in Bosnian municipalities outside Srebrenica. The chamber ruled that although Mladic 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 Bosnian Serb political leader, Radovan Karadzic, was also found not guilty of genocide in the municipalities. That earlier tribunal verdict triggered protests from Bosniaks, who wanted the court to acknowledge that genocide was committed across Bosnia, not just in Srebrenica.
In evaluating Mladics culpability for genocide, the court pointed to his command and control of the Bosnian Serb army and interior ministry forces who carried out almost all the executions, his presence in the area, and his frequent remarks about how the countrys Muslims could disappear.
Judge Orie said: The chamber found that the only reasonable inference was that the accused intended to destroy the Bosnian Muslim of Srebrenica as a substantial part of the protected group of Muslims in Bosnia Herzegovina.
Accordingly the chamber found the accused intended to carry out the Srebrenica joint criminal enterprises through the commission of the crime of genocide and was a member of the Srebrenica joint criminal enterprise, the judge said.
The hearing, broadcast live, was followed closely in Bosnia. The Bosnian prime minister, Denis Zvizdic, said the verdict confirmed that war criminals cannot escape justice regardless of how long they hide.
In Lazarevo, the Serbian village where former Mladic was arrested in 2011, residents dismissed the guilty verdicts as biased. Igor Topolic, a local said: all this is a farce for me, he [Mladic] is a Serbian national hero. Mladis home village of Bozinovici retains a street named after the former general, where he is praised as a symbol of defiance and national pride.
The trial in The Hague, which took 530 days spread over more than four years, is arguably the most significant war crimes case in Europe since the Nuremberg tribunal, in part because of the scale of the atrocities involved. Almost 600 people gave evidence for the prosecution and defence, including survivors of the conflict.
The trial is one of the last to be heard by the ICTY, which is due to be dissolved at the end of the year.