Nicknamed the “Bosnian butcher” or “Balkan butcher”, the former Serbian military leader Ratko Mladic (pronounced Mladich) confirmed on Tuesday (8) his life sentence for war crimes and found guilty of genocide. The verdict is final: no further appeal.
Mladic, 79, seized the United Nations tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague to condemn the largest massacre on European territory since World War II: the deaths of more than 8,000 people in the city of Srebrenica in July 1995.
The massacre took place during the civil war in the former Yugoslavia which, between 1992 and 1995, claimed more than 100,000 lives and left 2.2 million refugees.
Mladic was convicted of 10 of the 11 counts, including ethnic cleansing, terrorism, hostage-taking and unlawful attacks against civilians, in particular Croats and Bosnian Muslims. The five judges also responded to the request of the UN prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, to include genocide, an accusation that his defense considered unfounded. According to his lawyers, Mladic was “drawn” into the conflict.
The “butcher” commanded Serbian militias who opposed the independence of Bosnia and fought to annex it to Serbia. He led the conquest of Srebrenica, a town then designated as a UN safe zone and protected by Dutch peacekeepers – who used small arms.
Under the command of the general, they were separated for ten days and then the elderly, women and children were expelled. All men and young people of fighting age have been taken to the region’s forests, executed and thrown into mass graves – some 1,200 victims have so far been unidentified.
The massacre led to the intervention of NATO (military alliance between European and North American countries), rebalancing the power of the Serbs and leading to the Dayton peace accords. After 16 years on the run, Mladic was arrested by Serbia in 2011 and extradited to the court in The Hague.
At the trial, witnesses spoke of one of his first actions, as a colonel of the Yugoslav People’s Army, in 1992. The army ordered the attack on the Croats and Muslims in the village of Kijevo, for promote “ethnic cleansing” of the region. , according to a former resident.
When war broke out in 1992, Mladic took the lead in President Slobodan Milosevic’s armed effort to integrate Bosnian territory into the self-proclaimed Serbian Republic. According to information gathered during his trial, the army carried out large-scale ethnic cleansing, expelling, imprisoning or killing non-Serbs in towns and villages in northern and eastern Bosnia.
Mladic’s forces also shelled Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, killing 10,000 civilians, including 1,500 children.
Sentencing is expected to be the final act in the trial for one of the greatest war crimes of decades. Besides Mladic, three military leaders had previously been convicted – two of them subsequently committed suicide – and two died before being sentenced.