The fate of the so-called “Butcher of the Balkans”, definitively fixed this Tuesday. Nicknamed for his role in the Srebrenica massacre, the worst in Europe since World War II, Ratko Mladic was sentenced at first instance in 2017. The former Bosnian Serb military leader had taken life imprisonment for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the Bosnian War from 1992 to 1995.
International judges are due to deliver their verdict on appeal on Tuesday. Arrested in 2011 after 16 years on the run, the massive soldier Ratko Mladic, in detention in The Hague, is today an old man of nearly 80 years who suffers from health problems, according to his lawyers.
Relatives of the victims will be present
More than a quarter of a century after the conflict, the former general retains an aura of heroes among his family, but his name will remain associated with the crimes of the Bosnian war, from the siege of Sarajevo to the massacre of Srebrenica, where more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb forces. Despite the pandemic, relatives of victims, including Munira Subasic, president of one of the “mothers of Srebrenica” associations, will travel to The Hague to look the “executioner” in the eyes.
The appeal verdict will be delivered from 3:00 p.m. (1:00 p.m. GMT) – and streamed online with a 30-minute delay – by the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MTPI), which took over from the International Criminal Tribunal for the International Criminal Court. ex-Yugoslavia (ICTY) after its closure in 2017.
Acquittal requested by the defense
The defense and prosecution have both appealed the judgment, in which the ICTY acquitted Ratko Mladic of genocide in several other municipalities, which forms the bulk of the prosecutor’s appeal. Ratko Mladic’s defense demanded his acquittal of the genocide charges which earned him life imprisonment, claiming they were unfounded.
According to his lawyers, there is no connection between the former general and the killings that were committed in Srebrenica in 1995. Mladic, still considered a defender of the Serbian people by many Bosnian Serbs, said he had been drawn into the conflict against his will from the start of the war in Bosnia (1992 – 1995), which left some 100,000 dead and 2.2 million displaced.
“A target of the NATO alliance”
Initially scheduled for March 2020, the hearings were postponed for the first time because Ratko Mladic had undergone colon surgery, and a second time because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The exact age of the former general is debated, asserting that he was born on March 12, 1943 while the MTPI held on March 12, 1942. In August 2020, during the appeal trial, Ratko Mladic declared that the tribunal was a ” offspring of the Western powers ”and claimed to be still“ a target of the NATO alliance ”, accusing prosecutors of portraying him in“ satanic, treacherous and diabolical ”terms.
Ratko Mladic is one of the main leaders tried by international justice for crimes committed during the wars in the former Yugoslavia, besides the former political leader of the Bosnian Serbs Radovan Karadzic, sentenced to life in prison in 2019, and the ex-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who died in his cell in The Hague of a heart attack in 2006, before his trial was completed. MTPI prosecutor Serge Brammertz warned that Mladic’s final judgment would not be enough to end divisions in the Balkans, saying it only marked the end of a chapter.