RATKO MLADIC, ONE of the men thought to have masterminded a deadly and devastating ethnic war in Bosnia in the 1990s, is to face a war crimes tribunal today.
Twenty years on from the start of the bloody Bosnian war of 1992 to 1995, Mladic will face an United Nations international trial in The Hague. He is charged with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including genocide.
One of the worst atrocities in modern-day history, the war culminated in Srebrenica in 1995 with the massacre of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys. The now 70-year-old is accused of directing the killings. The indictment says:
Between 12 July and about 20 July 1995, thousands of Bosnian Muslim men were captured by, or surrendered to, Bosnian Serb Forces under the command and control of General Ratko Mladic. Over 7,000 Bosnian Muslim prisoners captured in the area around Srebrenica were summarily executed from 13 July to 19 July 1995. Killings continued thereafter. From about 1 August 1995 through about 1 November 1995, VRS [the army of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina/Republika Srpska] units under the command and control of General Ratko MLADIC participated in an organised and comprehensive effort to conceal the killings and executions of the Bosnian Muslims of Srebrenica by reburying, in isolated locations,bodies exhumed from mass graves.
Last year, Mladic refused to engage with the court during initial appearances so a “not guilty” plea was entered on his behalf. Before being arrested in May last year, he had been on the run for about 15 years. He claims that any act he carried out during the war was to defend his country.
His defence team has argued for a delay in the trial because of reasons of bias and ill-health but these calls have been rejected by the judges. However, the number of crimes he has been accused of was halved to speed up the trial.
The man seen as the overall architect of the Balkan wars of the 1990s, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, died of a heart attack in his cell in 2006 before tribunal judges could deliver verdicts in his trial.
“I don’t have to tell you how important it is that finally this trial can start 17 years after the first indictment was issued (against Mladic),” said the court’s Belgian chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz.
He has been waiting for his trial in the same jail as his former political leader, Radovan Karadzic, who was arrested in 2008 and is now at the midway point of his own trial on almost identical charges.
“We would of course have preferred having both before the same judges, one being the political architect of the crimes allegedly committed, the other the military leader of this policy,” Brammertz said.
The war in Bosnia claimed the lives of about 100,000 people.
“Victims are afraid that Mladic could die, and that would be very disappointing for the victims in Bosnia. I want a verdict for Mladic so that the whole world will see that he is a war criminal and has committed the crimes in Bosnia,” said Kadefa Mujic, 42, from Srebrenica, a representative of the group “Mothers of Srebrenica” who met with Brammertz in The Hague yesterday.
The trial is due to begin at 8am (Irish time) but Mladic has waived his right to an opening statement. Testimony is expected from at least 400 witnesses in the coming weeks with the first taking the stand on 29 May.
Munira Subasic was in Srebrenica on those fateful days in 1995, seeking sanctuary with thousands of other residents in a UN peacekeepers’ compound.
Speaking to The Associated Press in Bosnia, she said she still remembers Mladic barking threats at the base’s Dutch commander and ordering men to be separated from women.
“Surrender your weapons and I will guarantee you life,” he told the Bosnian Muslim men and boys, some as young as 11. “You can survive or you can disappear.”
But it was those who obeyed who disappeared: Their bodies are still being found in mass graves scattered around the town. Thousands who refused managed to flee through the hills to freedom.
There are several victims’ groups present in The Hague today.
-Additional reporting by AP