Ratko Mladic’s defence case has opened at the Yugoslav war crimes court, with the Bosnian Serb ex-army chief accused of masterminding some of Europe’s worst atrocities since World War II.
Mladic, 72, faces 11 charges ranging from hostage-taking to genocide for his role in Bosnia’s brutal 1992-95 conflict in which 100,000 people died and 2.2 million were left homeless.
An unnamed witness was scheduled to take the stand on Monday before a three-judge bench of the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
Presiding Judge Alphons Orie has given Mladic’s lawyers 207 hours to question witnesses – the same amount of time given to the prosecution, who finished their case earlier this year, the ICTY said in a statement.
There was no restriction on the number of witnesses defence lawyers could call, it added.
Arrested in Serbia and transferred to the ICTY in 2011, the former Bosnian Serb commander is in particular wanted for his role in the June 1995 massacre of almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia.
There, Mladic’s forces overran lightly armed Dutch UN troops protecting the supposedly safe enclave, before murdering the men and boys and dumping their bodies into mass graves.
‘Butcher of Bosnia’
Dubbed the “Butcher of Bosnia”, the former Bosnian Serb army general is also held responsible for conducting a campaign against residents of Bosnia’s capital Sarajevo during a 44-month siege.
About 10,000 people were killed, many by snipers and shelling.
Mladic has also been charged for taking hostage a group of more than 200 UN peacekeepers during the conflict, keeping them in strategic locations as “human shields” against NATO air strikes.
Mladic, known for his outbursts in court, has denied the charges. He faces life in prison if convicted.
In January, he refused to testify at the trial of Radovan Karadzic, his political counterpart at the time, repeatedly dismissing the UN Yugoslav war crimes tribunal as “satanic”.
Karadzic had hoped Mladic would testify that they did not agree or plan to expel Muslims or Croats from areas under Serb control.
The two men could have been tried together had they been arrested around the same time. But Karadzic was arrested in July 2008 and Mladic in May 2011.
Last month, the ICTY upheld the charges against Mladic in a hearing to see if there was enough evidence to continue trying him after prosecutors closed their case.
Judge Orie ruled then that Mladic “had a case to answer on all counts of the indictment”.