Mladic trial nears end, far from Bosnia’s killing fields
The protracted and complicated trial of notorious former Serb military commander Ratko Mladic, once dubbed the “Butcher of Bosnia”, reaches a climax next week more than 20 years after the war.
Closing arguments will begin Monday in the case in which Mladic, 74, has denied 11 charges including two of genocide, as well as war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the bloody 1992-95 Bosnian conflict.
More than 100,000 people died and 2.2 million others were left homeless in the conflict, one of several that erupted as the former Yugoslavia fell apart.
Far from the battlefields which once scarred Bosnia in Europe’s worst bloodshed since World War II, the prosecution will have three days to present its closing arguments from Monday, followed by the defence which will address the court from Friday.
Indicted in July 1995, Mladic has been behind bars in a UN detention unit in The Hague since May 2011 when he was found in a relative’s house in northeastern Serbia.
He had spent 16 years evading capture, initially living openly despite an international arrest warrant until going underground in 2000 once former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic was ousted.
Prosecutors at the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) allege Mladic “significantly contributed to an overarching joint criminal enterprise” from October 1991 until 30 November 1995.
The aim was “the permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory” in Bosnia Hercegovina.
– Borders drawn in blood –
The epitome of Serb defiance, Mladic once said chillingly: “Borders are always drawn in blood and states marked out with graves.”
He is notably accused of being the architect of the harrowing 44-month siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, which claimed an estimated 10,000 lives in a brutal campaign of shelling and sniping.
Mladic also stands accused for his role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing.
And he is alleged to have taken UN personnel hostage to use as human shields against NATO airstrikes.
Munira Subasic, the president of the Mothers of Srebrenica group, told AFP, they were hoping the prosecution would persuade the judges to jail him for life in a verdict expected next year.
In March, his political ally Radovan Karadzic was sentenced to 40 years in jail, including for the Srebrenica genocide.
Subasic regretted the time lost, saying: “Those who still believe Karadzic and Mladic are heroes would perhaps have thought differently today if they had been sentenced very quickly after the war.”
Mladic has indeed remained a hero to many, who have denounced the ICTY hearings as a political trial.
“He doesn’t have much trust in this tribunal. He doesn’t have high hopes,” his lawyer Branko Lukic told AFP.
“He thinks that if they were to judge him according to the facts, he would be acquitted. But if it’s a political trial he will be convicted.”
– Chess with Karadzic –
Far from the menacing figure he once cut, Mladic has appeared grey and ageing in recent years.
Lukic revealed that although Mladic’s health has improved since he arrived in The Hague, he has suffered three strokes which have left him more temperamental, and liable to fiery outbursts.
Mladic’s trial will be the last at the ICTY, set up by the United Nations at the height of the war to bring perpetrators of atrocities to justice.
His defence has bombarded the judges with more than 950 motions since 2011, including demanding to have the judges kicked off his case. Most have been turned down.
Mladic also refused to testify at Karadzic’s trial, and the two men regularly play chess together in the detention unit. Mladic “likes to win” and most of the time beats his old ally, his lawyer said.
But his supporters believe the ending is already set and when the verdict is handed down “it will be draconian,” said his friend and writer, Ljiljana Bulatovic.
“It’s all part of a scenario in which the verdict has been written in advance and will be the final act of the ICTY,” she told AFP.