Ratko Mladić Sentenced to Life in Prison for Genocide

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has found Ratko Mladić guilty of ten out of eleven counts of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Srebrenica, and sentenced him to life imprisonment. Civil Rights Defenders welcomes the conviction, which is one step on the path of reaching justice for the victims of the most serious human rights violations in the Balkans.

Ratko Mladić, a former general of the Bosnian Serb army, was extradited to International Criminal Tribunal in May 2011. Mladić was first indicted for genocide and crimes against humanity by the ICTY in 1995, but avoided capture by hiding in Serbia for sixteen years until his arrest in 2011. His trial began in 2012 and lasted for six years, during which testimonies from over 500 witnesses were heard.

General Ratko Mladic (centre) arrives for UN-mediated talks at Sarajevo airport, June 1993. Photo by Mikhail Evstafiev

General Ratko Mladic (centre) has been sentenced to life imprisonment for genocide. Photo: Mikhail Evstafiev, CC-BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.

The court acquitted Mladić on one count of genocide (Srebrenica), concluding that the prosecution did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the crimes against humanity committed in seven municipalities across Bosnia and Herzegovina constituted genocide. The court however found him guilty of the remaining counts and he was sentenced to a lifetime in prison. Although there is no adequate sentence for the crimes and genocide committed under Mladić’s command, the verdict will hopefully bring a sense of justice and provide symbolic satisfaction to the victims in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The trial of Mladić was the second prosecution of a high-level Bosnian Serb official after Radovan Karadžić, the former president of the Republika Srpska. In 2016, the ICTY convicted Karadžić to 40 years in prison for the same crimes Mladić was accused of. Slobodan Milošević, the President of Serbia, also stood trial before the ICTY, but died in The Hague in 2006 before the court could deliver a verdict in his case.

The verdict of Ratko Mladić has not brought to light new information regarding war crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The crimes of which Mladić has been convicted have been proven in trials of other officials of the Bosnian Serb army. Similarly, facts from previous cases of crime and genocide committed by the structures of Republika Srpska were before today already proven by the ICTY. Furthermore, the cases from 1992 on war crimes in Foča, Ključ, Kotor-Varoš, Prijedor, Sanski Most and Vlasenica, the terrorisation of citizens in Sarajevo where UN members were taken hostages, and the genocide in Srebrenica have been proven in several previous verdicts.

This new verdict rather establishes Mladić’s command, approval and knowledge of the war crimes committed against the civilian population. Thus, what has been proven is Mladić’s individual criminal responsibility. Importantly, however, Mladić was one out of several functions within Republika Srpska and therefore the description of his responsibility also applies to the structure and the Bosnian Serb leadership at large. It was this structure that lead to the Srebrenica genocide in which the political, military and police structures of Republika Srpska participated.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Photo: Julian Nitzsche, CC-BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.

Twenty-two years after the war, the war crimes proceedings remain a divisive and sensitive issue in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Many Bosnian Serbs continue to see the ICTY as politically motivated, and view Ratko Mladić as a defender of Bosnian Serb interests. What long-term effects his conviction will have remain to be seen. The same goes for the work of ICTY on reconciliation between the nations of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Civil Rights Defenders emphasises the importance of more effective prosecution of war criminals, in particular now when the ICTY is ending their mission with only one verdict left by the end of the year, and as the responsibility henceforward will be put upon each country’s own judicial system.

One such step is to establish the already existing initiative Regional commission for the establishment of facts about war crimes and other serious violations of human rights committed in the former Yugoslavia from January 1, 1991 until December 31, 2001 (RECOM). Civil Rights Defenders encourages the authorities of the former Yugoslavian countries to support the initiative and to condemn all war crimes, in particular those committed by the members of their own ethnic group in order to enhance peace and reconciliation for the region.

Categories: News.
Tags: ICTY and Ratko Mladic.
Regions: Western Balkans.