Yugoslav wars

UN court upholds genocide conviction of Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic

A mural of Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic in Belgrado, Serbia, 8 June 2021. A UN court in The Hague upheld genocide and war crimes convictions of Mladic after a final appeal.
A mural of Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic in Belgrado, Serbia, 8 June 2021. A UN court in The Hague upheld genocide and war crimes convictions of Mladic after a final appeal. Andrej Isakovic AFP

UN appeals judges on Tuesday upheld the conviction of former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic for genocide and other offenses committed during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war. It also confirmed his life sentence.

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The ruling means that the 79-year-old former general who terrorized Bosnia throughout the war will spend the rest of his life in prison. 

He is the last major figure from the conflict that ended more than a quarter century ago to face justice.

Presiding Judge Prisca Matimba Nyambe of Zambia  dismissed Mladic’s appeal “in its entirety” and affirmed his life sentence. 

It also rejected an appeal by prosecutors of Mladic’s acquittal on one other count of genocide linked to ethnic purges early in the war.

Mladic was initially tried by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTFY) and sentenced, on 22 November 2017, to life in prison.

The ICTFY was dissolved in the same year and appeals were taken over by the Appeals Chamber of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, a UN organ designed to tie up loose ends left over by the ICTFY and a similar tribunal that dealt with the Rwanda genocide. 

Ethnic bloodshed

Mladic joins his former political master, ex-Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic, in serving a life sentence for masterminding ethnic bloodshed in the Bosnian war that left more than 100,000 dead and millions homeless.

Once a swaggering military strongman known as the “Butcher of Bosnia,” Mladic appeared upbeat as he entered the courtroom, mimicking photographers as he sat down. 

But he scowled as the judgment was read and showed no emotion when he heard his appeal had been rejected in its entirety.

Mladic commanded troops responsible for atrocities ranging from “ethnic cleansing” campaigns to the siege of Sarajevo and the war’s bloody climax in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. Now, he is a frail elderly man whose ill health delayed this final judgment.

Former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic gestures prior to the pronouncement of his appeal judgement at the UN International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) in The Hague, Netherlands June 8, 2021.
Former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic gestures prior to the pronouncement of his appeal judgement at the UN International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) in The Hague, Netherlands June 8, 2021. REUTERS - POOL

His toxic legacy continues to divide Bosnia and his dark shadow has spread far beyond the Balkans.

To Serbs in Bosnia, he is a war hero who fought to protect his people. 

To Bosniaks, mostly Muslims, he will always be a villain responsible for their wartime suffering and losses.

Mladic was first indicted in July 1995. 

After the war in Bosnia ended, he went into hiding and was finally arrested in 2011 and handed over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia by the then-ruling pro-Western government of Serbia.

(with agencies)

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