© Reuters. Former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic gestures ahead of his appeal judgment before the International Mechanism to Exercise the Residual Functions of Criminal Courts (IRMCT) in The Hague, Netherlands, June 8 2021. Peter Dejong / Pool via REUTERS
By Stéphanie van den Berg and Anthony Deutsch
THE HAGUE (Reuters) – United Nations war crimes judges on Tuesday upheld a genocide conviction and life sentence against former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic, confirming his central role in the worst atrocities committed in Europe since World War II.
Mladic, 78, led the Bosnian Serb forces during the Bosnian War from 1992 to 1995. He was convicted in 2017 of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, including for terrorizing the civilian population of Bosnian capital Sarajevo during a 43-month siege, and for the murder of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys taken prisoner in the eastern city. of Srebrenica in 1995.
“His name should be on the list of the most depraved and barbaric personalities in history,” said the court’s chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, after the verdict. He urged all officials in the ethnically divided region of the former Yugoslavia to condemn the ex-general.
Mladic, who had challenged both the guilty verdict and the life sentence during his trial, wore a dress shirt and black suit and stared at the ground as the appeal judgment was read in court in The Hague.
The appeals chamber “rejects Mladic’s appeal in its entirety (…), rejects the prosecution’s appeal in its entirety (…), confirms the life sentence imposed on Mladic by the Trial Chamber, ”President Prisca Nyambe said.
The result crowns 25 years of trial before the ad hoc International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which convicted 90 people. The ICTY is one of the predecessors of the International Criminal Court, the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal, also based in The Hague.
“I hope that with this Mladic judgment, the children of Republika Srpska (the entity ruled by the Bosnian Serbs) and the children of Serbia who live in lies will read this,” said Munira Subasic, whose son and the husband were killed by the Serbian forces which invaded Srebrenica. after the decision, highlighting the denial of the Serbian genocide.
Many Serbs still see Mladic as a hero, not a criminal.
Postwar Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, who now chairs Bosnia’s interethnic tripartite presidency, denounced the verdict. “It is clear to us that there is an attempt here to create a myth about a genocide that never took place,” Dodik said.
In Washington, the White House praised the work of UN courts in bringing perpetrators of war crimes to justice.
“This landmark judgment shows that those who commit horrific crimes will be held accountable. It also strengthens our common resolve to prevent future atrocities from happening anywhere in the world,” he said in a statement.
The appeals judges said Mladic, who after his indictment at the ICTY was a fugitive for 16 years until his capture in 2011, would remain in detention in The Hague while arrangements were made for his transfer to a state where he was arrested. will serve his sentence. It is not yet known in which country will take it.
Mladic’s lawyers had argued that the former general could not be held responsible for possible crimes committed by his subordinates. They asked for an acquittal or a new trial.
Prosecutors had asked the appeal board to uphold Mladic’s conviction and life sentence in full.
They also wanted him to be convicted of an additional charge of genocide for an ethnic cleansing campaign – a campaign to expel Bosnian Muslims, Croats and other non-Serbs in order to carve out a Greater Serbia – in the early years of the war. which included brutal detention camps that shocked the world.
This prosecution appeal was also dismissed. The 2017 verdict concluded that the ethnic cleansing campaign amounted to persecution – a crime against humanity – but not genocide.
United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Tuesday that Mladic’s final decision meant the international justice system held him accountable.
“Mladic’s crimes were the heinous culmination of political hatred,” Bachelet said in a statement.
The lower ICTY court ruled that Mladic was part of a “criminal conspiracy” with the political leadership of the Bosnian Serbs. He also revealed that he was in “direct contact” with then Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who died in 2006 shortly before the verdict of his own trial before the ICTY for genocide and crimes against humanity.
Mladic has been deemed to have played a pivotal role in some of the most horrific crimes committed on European soil since the Nazi Holocaust of WWII.
The court determined that Mladic played a central role in the Srebrenica massacre – which took place in a UN designated “safe zone” for civilians – as he controlled both military and police units. involved.