Lawyers for Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic have told a UN court he is at risk of a “miscarriage of justice” because he is mentally unfit to take part in an appeal hearing against his genocide conviction.
Dubbed the “Butcher of Bosnia”, the 78-year-old Mladic has challenged his 2017 conviction and life sentence for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in the civil war in the former Yugoslavia, including the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.
But Mladic’s lawyers said they were taking part under protest as the two-day hearing got under way in The Hague, after judges earlier this week rejected a bid to postpone it pending a fresh medical assessment.
A frail-looking Mladic appeared in court wearing a mask because of coronavirus regulations, which he later removed.
Wearing a suit with his red tie askew, he initially said he could not follow the hearing through headphones.
“This hearing today is inappropriate and threatens … a miscarriage of justice,” defence lawyer Dragan Ivetic told the court.
“I am unable to meaningfully gain instruction from Mr Mladic, or be assured that he is able to meaningfully follow proceedings.”
The hearing has already been delayed several times since March after Mladic needed an operation to remove a benign polyp on his colon, and then because of the pandemic.
Mladic was captured in 2011 after years on the run and sentenced to life behind bars three years ago for his role in the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia.
This included genocide committed by his forces in the small eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica, Europe’s worst bloodshed since World War II, where about 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered.
About 100,000 people were killed and 2.2 million others displaced in the Bosnian war, which erupted as communal rivalries tore Yugoslavia apart after the fall of communism.
Mladic, who has been serving his sentence at a detention centre in the seaside suburb of Scheveningen, has appealed against both the conviction and sentence. The prosecution has appealed against his acquittal on wider genocide charges.
Ivetic said the original judgement was “replete with errors”, including linking Mladic to crimes committed in 1991 before he was in the chain of command.
The trial judges erred by admitting some actions allegedly carried out by Mladic’s subordinates, said Peta-Louise Baggott, another defence lawyer.
The case is being heard at the UN’s International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals in The Hague, which deals with cases left over from now-defunct tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
Mladic will himself be allowed to speak for 10 minutes on Wednesday. He had to be dragged out of the court in 2017 after an outburst in which he accused the judges of lying.