A United Nations (UN) war crimes court convicted former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic of war crimes including genocide and crimes against humanity in widely expected verdict delivered today at The Hague. Mladic was sentenced to life in prison for his part in the atrocities committed against Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks), Croats, and other non-Serbs during the bloody Bosnian War of 1992-1995. Following the partial breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991 and the creation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992, Bosnian Serbs – supported by Serbia – fought to carve out an ethnically homogenous Bosnian Serb nation.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) found Mladic guilty of 10 out of 11 charges in a dramatic conclusion to a multi-decade effort that has tried to mete out justice to those responsible for the worst atrocities to occur in Europe since WWII. Former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic – also charged by the ICTY with genocide and crimes against humanity in connection to the wars in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo – died in his cell in The Hague before the trial concluded.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein labelled Mladic’s conviction a “momentous victory for justice” and said: “Today’s verdict is a warning to the perpetrators of such crimes that they will not escape justice, no matter how powerful they may be nor how long it may take. They will be held accountable.”
Mladic’s sentence was read out by presiding judge Alphons Orie, who removed the defendant from the courtroom for an angry outburst. The Butcher of Bosnia, as he is known, watched the final proceedings on a screen elsewhere in the courthouse, The New York Times reports.
The ICTY held Mladic responsible for commanding the forces that perpetrated some of the worst crimes of the Bosnian War. Among these were the almost four-year siege of Bosnian capital Sarajevo – the longest siege of a capital city in modern military history, which killed almost 14,000 people, including over 5,000 civilians – and the 1995 massacre of around 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica. A lawyer said Mladic will appeal the genocide conviction at the war crimes tribunal.
Living conditions were appalling for civilians trapped in Sarajevo, recalls Mark Brennock, a national-award winning former journalist who covered the last days of the Siege of Sarajevo for The Irish Times. “What became normal for them was living in apartments with no windows, living in basements, no heating, no running water, day after day,” he told WikiTribune in a phone interview. “They just felt really vulnerable down in the city, being fired upon with shells, being bombed. Day to day life was just a misery.”
Bosnian Prime Minister Denis Zvizdic welcomed the conviction, saying it would act as a “deterrent to all those who dream of future wars and continue to stoke ethnic tensions.”
In Serbia, pro-government television blasted the decision as “shameful” and biased against Serbs. Serbian President Alksandar Vucic echoed the sentiment, claiming he was not surprised by the verdict, but called on Serbs to stop dwelling on the past. “We are ready to accept our responsibility (for war crimes) while the others are not,” he said. However, Serbian liberals applauded the conviction and called on the nation to accept its role in the brutal war.
Who was Mladic?
1. How significant is this verdict? Why does this matter, over 20 years later?
2. Will Mladic actually serve time in prison?
3. Has this UN court fulfilled its role effectively?
4. Could such a verdict actually inflame Serb nationalism?