Nicknamed the “Bosnian butcher” or “Balkan butcher”, former Serbian military leader Ratko Mladic (pronounced Mladitch) had upheld on Tuesday (8) his life sentence for war crimes and found guilty of genocide. The verdict is final: no further appeal.
Mladic, 79, had appealed to the United Nations tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague to condemn the biggest massacre in European territory since World War II: the death 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, left more than 100,000 dead and made 2.2 million refugees.
Mladic was convicted on 10 of 11 counts — including ethnic cleansing, terrorism, hostage-taking and illegal attacks on civilians, especially Croats and Bosnian Muslims. The five judges also responded to the request of the UN prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, to include genocide, a charge that his defense considered unfounded. According to his lawyers, Mladic was “dragged” into the conflict.
The “butcher” commanded Serbian militias that opposed Bosnia’s independence and fought to annex it to Serbia. He led the conquest of Srebrenica, a city then designated as a UN security zone and protected by Dutch peacekeepers — who used light weapons.
Under the general’s command, they were separated for ten days and then the elderly, women and children were expelled. All of the men and youth of fighting age were taken to forests in the region, executed and thrown into mass graves — some 1,200 victims have not been identified to date.
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 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 military commanded the attack on Croats and Muslims in the village of Kijevo, to promote an “ethnic cleansing” of the region, according to a former -residents.
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 reports during his trial, the military led a large-scale ethnic cleansing, expelling, imprisoning or killing non-Serbs in towns and villages in northern and eastern Bosnia.
Mladic’s forces also bombed Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, killing 10,000 civilians, including 1,500 children.
The sentence is expected to be the last act of the trial for one of the biggest war crimes of recent decades. In addition to Mladic, three military leaders had already been convicted – two of them later committed suicide – and two died before being sentenced.