‘Butcher of Bosnia’ Mladic to hear final verdict in genocide case

UN judges will rule on the Bosnian Serb military chief’s appeal against his genocide conviction for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

Former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic stands prior to the pronouncement of his appeal judgement at the UN International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) in The Hague, Netherlands [Lampen/Pool via Reuters]

Appeals judges are preparing to hand down a verdict against former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic, ending the last Bosnian genocide trial before the UN court for the former Yugoslavia.

Mladic, 78, led Bosnian Serb forces during the 1992-95 Bosnian War.

Known as the “Butcher of Bosnia”, he was convicted in 2017 on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes including terrorising the civilian population of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo during a 43-month siege and the killing of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica, Bosnia, in 1995.

It was the worst massacre on European soil since World War II and remains the only episode of genocide in the continent recognised by two international courts.

Tuesday’s judgment a five-judge panel is being led by Zambian Presiding Judge Prisca Matimba Nyambe.

Judges will start reading out their ruling at 3pm local time (13:00 GMT).

Mothers and widows of some of victims killed when Bosnian Serb troops overran Srebrenica were outside the court in the Netherlands where they have long campaigned for justice.

The verdict comes after 25 years of trials at the ad hoc United Nations war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia which convicted 90 people.

Lawyers for Mladic appealed his conviction and argued the former general could not be held responsible for possible crimes committed by his subordinates. They asked for an acquittal or a retrial.

Prosecutors want Mladic’s conviction to be upheld, along with his life sentence.

UN prosecutor Serge Brammertz stressed the importance of the Mladic ruling for victims who live with the trauma of the 1990s conflict daily.

“If you speak to the survivors, the mothers (of Srebrenica) who lost their husbands, their sons: their lives really stopped on the day of the genocide,” he told journalists ahead of the verdict.

Mladic was first indicted in July 1995.

After the war in Bosnia ended, he went into hiding and was finally arrested in 2011 and handed over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia by the then-ruling pro-Western government of Serbia.

For some Bosnian Serbs, Mladic remains a hero.

Srdjan Stankovic, a Serbian veteran of the 1992-1995 Bosnian conflict, said Mladic’s supporters would “not abandon him”.

“If we can defend him, and save him, we will. We created the republic together and nobody can deny it to us,” Stankovic told Al Jazeera.

Serb war veteran Milije Radovic from the eastern Bosnian town of Foca told The Associated Press news agency: “I cannot accept any verdict … For me, he is an icon. And for the Serb people, he is an icon.”

A Bosnian Muslim woman reacts as she awaits the final verdict of former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic in the Srebrenica-Potocari Genocide Memorial Center, Bosnia and Herzegovina, June 8, 2021 [Dado Ruvic/Reuters]

In the Bosnian capital Sarajevo residents lamented that Mladic was still revered in the Serb-dominated region of the ethnically divided country.

“Twenty-five years later, I feel as if the war is not over,” said Mela Softic, 37, a marketing specialist who spent her childhood in besieged Sarajevo.

Fikret Grabovica, whose 11-year-old daughter was killed during the siege of Sarajevo, told Al Jazeera laws needed to be passed to “ban the glorification of criminals and the promotion of them as heroes.”

“People like Mladic should simply go down in history as one of the greatest criminals ever.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies