Human Rights House Foundation

HRHN20

Image: Ratko Mladic in srebrenica, 1995

Ratko Mladić goes on trial for genocide

The trial of General Ratko Mladić, the former Bosnian Serb army chief accused of orchestrating war crimes and a campaign of genocide, has begun at a special UN court at The Hague in the Netherlands. Prosecutors at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia recently made their opening statements against Mladić, almost a year after his arrest in Serbia and subsequent deportation. Mladić is accused of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including orchestrating the week-long massacre of over 7,000 Muslim boys and men at Srebrenica in 1995 during the Bosnian war.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012, by HRH Oslo, Based on Reuters, Al jazeera information

Prosecutor Dermot Groome said the prosecution would present evidence showing "beyond a reasonable doubt the hand of Mr. Mladić in each of these crimes". "The world watched in disbelief that in neighbourhoods and villages within Europe genocide appeared to be in progress", said Groome, describing the beginning of the war in 1992. "By the time Mladić and his troops murdered thousands in Srebrenica ... they were well-rehearsed in the craft of murder," Groome told the court.

Trial in The Hague

Dressed in a dark grey suit and dark tie, Mladić, now 70, flashed a thumbs-up and clapped his hands as he entered the courtroom in The Hague. In the packed public seating area, a mother of one of the Srebrenica victims whispered "vulture" several times as prosecutors opened their case. Munira Subasić, who lost 22 relatives in the Srebrenica massacre, claimed Mladić made a throat-slitting gesture towards her after she had held up both her hands, wrists crossed, to indicate Mladić was in captivity. Mladić's lawyer, Branko Lukić, did not confirm her version of events, but claimed that somebody in the audience raised their middle finger at Mladić. "He is very easily provoked and we had that gallery full of people very ready to provoke", Lukić said. Al Jazeera's Barnaby Phillips, reporting from The Hague, said: "Ratko Mladić is clearly not the stocky, physically imposing, bullish man that we remember from images of the early '90s", but even with his age, the general remained as defiant as ever. 

Axel Hagedorn, a lawyer for many of the mothers of those killed in Srebrenica, said that many of his clients had travelled to The Hague, where they were relieved to finally see Mladić stand trial. "I think he looks much healthier than last year, when he appeared, that is good for us, because we hope that he can survive this trial and face imprisonment", he said.

The Mladić trial would also help build a separate case by the Srebrenica families against the United Nations, he said. In April, the Dutch Supreme Court ruled that the UN could not be prosecuted in the Netherlands for failing to prevent genocide in Srebrenica, but the families' lawyers plan to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. "This case is very linked to our case, on the failure of the United Nations to protect the people of Srebrenica", Hagedorn said.

There are however concerns that Mladić's trial could be disrupted by the defendant's poor health. He is believed to have suffered at least one stroke while in hiding and was admitted to hospital for pneumonia last October. Slobodan Milošević, the former Serbian leader, died of a heart attack in detention in 2006 before a verdict in his trial could be reached. 

Profile: Ratko Mladić

Mladić was born in the village of Kalinovik, in Bosnia, then part of Yugoslavia, in 1942, and went on to become an officer in the Yugoslav People's Army. His father was killed by pro-Nazi Croatian Ustasha troops in 1945. As the country began to fall apart in 1991, he was posted to lead the Yugoslav army's 9th Corps against Croatian forces at Knin. Later, he took command of the Yugoslav army's second military district, based in Sarajevo. In May 1992, the Bosnian Serb assembly voted to create a Bosnian Serb army, appointing Mladić to the post of commander. He was promoted to the rank of General Colonel in June 1994. In March 1994, Mladić's daughter Ana, a medical student, shot herself with her father's pistol in Belgrade. Mladić led Bosnian Serb troops throughout the 1992-1995 conflict.

Ratko Mladić was indicted by the United Nations war crimes tribunal in 1995 on charges of genocide and other crimes against humanity. Serbia announced his arrest on May 26, 2011. "On behalf of the Republic of Serbia we announce that Ratko Mladić has been arrested", Boris Tadić, the country's president, said. "Today we closed one chapter of our recent history that will bring us one step closer to full reconciliation in the region".

Mladić is alleged to have been involved in the Srebrenica massacre of about 8,000 unarmed Bosnian Muslims in July 1995, and the siege of Sarajevo, in which more than 12,000 civilians died. Mladić, then being chief of staff of the army of Republika Srpska, is also charged with the killing, deportation and forcible transfer of non-Serbs in support of "ethnic cleansing" campaigns in Bosnia in 1992 and 1993.

The former military leader's family sought to have Mladić declared officially dead in May 2010, claiming they had not seen him for seven years and that they wished to end the "harassment they are exposed to". 

The massacre of Srebrenica

The Srebrenica massacre is seen as the single worst atrocity in Europe since World War II. In the five days after Bosnian Serb forces took control of the town, at least 8,000 Muslim men and boys, aged from 12 to 77, were murdered, after they were separated out for "interrogation for suspected war crimes" by the Serbs.

Mladić is accused of involvement in the torture, abuse, sexual violence and beatings of Bosnian Muslims, and of creating conditions in detention facilities "calculated to bring about the physical destruction of Bosnian Muslims". He also faces charges over attempts to conceal the executions of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica by reburying, in isolated locations, bodies exhumed from mass graves. The indictment alleges that Mladić "was a member of a joint criminal enterprise whose objective was the elimination or permanent removal of Bosnian Muslim, Bosnian Croat, or other non-Serb inhabitants from large areas of (Bosnia and Herzegovina)".

HRH Oslo, Based on Reuters, Al jazeera information

Page navigation