As a general in the Bosnian Serb army, he commanded the Srebrenica massacre and was involved in other war crimes. Now one thing is certain: Radko Mladic will never be released again.
It’s a historic verdict: almost 26 years after the Srebrenica genocide, the UN war crimes tribunal upheld the life sentence for Serbian ex-general Ratko Mladic. His guilt for the atrocities in the Bosnian war has been proven beyond doubt, the judges in The Hague ruled on Tuesday. They followed the judgment of the first instance in 2017. Mladic’s appeal was dismissed.
The 78-year-old Madlic is primarily associated with one image worldwide: a beefy man in combat suit, his hair shorn to the nearest millimeter, distributing chocolate to children, calming crying women. Only a little later, the same man will give the order to kill the fathers of these children. The men, sons, brothers of women. It is July 11, 1995, the Srebrenica genocide begins. Around 8,000 Muslim men and boys were murdered by Mladic’s men in the days that followed.
The ex-general, also known as the “butcher of Bosnia”, is one of the main perpetrators of the atrocities in the Bosnian war (1992-1995) with around 100,000 dead and millions displaced. The appeals court also saw his guilt as proven beyond any doubt. He will spend the rest of his life behind bars, as will his political companion. Former Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was sentenced to life imprisonment for the Srebrenica genocide in March 2019.
Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz welcomed the verdict on Tuesday and warned Mladic’s supporters: “It is time to accept the truth.” Mladic is one of the “most notorious war criminals in modern history”. US President Joe Biden spoke of an “historic judgment”. “It also strengthens our shared determination to prevent future atrocities around the world.” EU Council President Charles Michel spoke of an important step towards justice for the victims.
“Historic day for the Balkans, Europe and the world”
Mladic was only caught in 2011 and handed over to the tribunal. 16 years after the end of the war. The ex-general had previously gone into hiding for years. Like Karadzic, he became a symbol of horror for many victims and survivors.
In the square in front of the court, protesters had gathered hours before the verdict was announced, including the mothers of some of the men and boys killed at the time. It is a “historic day, not just for us mothers, but for the entire Balkans, Europe and the world,” said Munira Subasic from the Association of Mothers of Srebrenica. Mladic is “a monster” who still doesn’t regret his actions 26 years later.
At the genocide memorial in Srebrenica, witness statements about the massacres were shown on a large screen on the occasion of the verdict. “Instead of enjoying grandchildren, I came here to cry,” said Munevera Kabeljic, 69, who visited the graves of her husband and sons, who were murdered at the ages of 17 and 20.
Serious war crime in Europe since the end of World War II
In order to prove Mladic’s personal responsibility for the Srebrenica massacre, the public prosecutor’s office showed video recordings on appeal, showing the then general handing sweets to children in Srebrenica before they were taken away with their mothers on buses. Immediately afterwards, Bosnian Serb soldiers took the fathers and sons of the families away and shot them in a nearby forest.
The systematic execution of Muslim men and boys was the worst war crime in Europe since the end of World War II. The goal of Mladic and Karadzic and others was an “ethnically pure Serbian state,” ruled the court. Their means: terrorizing the non-Serbian population up to and including murder.
Mladic shook her head several times
It was Mladic’s last appearance in court. Before the beginning of the meeting, he was dressed in a dark suit with a blue tie. He laughed and grimaced at the photographers, the corona protective mask loosely in hand. But while the verdict was being read out, he looked almost motionless in front of him. And when the judge found his Srebrenica guilty, he shook his head several times. When the verdict was passed, he was silent.
In recent years Mladic had often turned the meetings into a spectacle, mocked the judges or simply ignored them. For him, the UN court was an instrument of Western powers. He had never seen any guilt either. “I’m not a saint, I’m just a simple man,” he said in his closing remarks last year. “Fate enabled me to defend my country, which was destroyed by Western powers.”
With this judgment, the last major international Srebrenica trial comes to an end. But until today the perpetrators are glorified, complained chief prosecutor Brammertz. Mladic should be condemned by all leading politicians worldwide. “His name must be put on the list of the worst and most barbaric characters in history.”