THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Ratko Mladic, the military leader known as the “Butcher of Bosnia” for orchestrating genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in the nation’s 1992-95 war from the Balkans, lost his final legal battle on Tuesday when UN judges dismissed his appeals and upheld his life sentence.
The ruling on his 2017 convictions and sentence closed a dark chapter in European history that included the continent’s first genocide since World War II – the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys.
The now fragile Mladic, often belligerent in his court appearances in The Hague, showed no reaction other than a scowl as Presiding Judge Prisca Matimba Nyambe of Zambia said the panel dismissed, by a 4-1 vote, his calls for convictions for crimes including genocide, murder, extermination and terror for atrocities throughout the war that have killed over 100,000 people and left millions in homeless.
The 79-year-old former general is the latest major figure to face justice in the conflict that ended more than a quarter of a century ago.
Its former political leader, ex-Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic, is already serving a life sentence after being convicted of the same crimes. Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, accused of fomenting the ethnic conflicts that tore the Balkans apart in the 1990s, died in a UN cell in 2006 before the judges in his trial could deliver verdicts.
Serge Brammertz, the prosecutor who ultimately brought Karadzic and Mladic to justice, said Mladic “is one of the most notorious war criminals in modern history” who abused his position of power to commit crimes, including genocide.
“Mladic should be condemned by all responsible in the former Yugoslavia and around the world,” Brammertz said. “His name should be on the list of the most depraved and barbaric characters in history.”
President Joe Biden said that “the landmark judgment shows that those who commit horrific crimes will be held accountable. It also strengthens our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from happening all over the world. “
“My thoughts are with all the surviving families of the many victims of the Mladic atrocities today. We can never erase the tragedy of their deaths, but I hope today’s judgment brings some comfort to all who are grieving, ”Biden said in a statement.
The court also dismissed prosecutors’ appeal against Mladic’s acquittal on another count of genocide linked to ethnic purges at the start of the war.
As commander of the Bosnian Serb army, the once swaggering Mladic led troops responsible for atrocities ranging from “ethnic cleansing” campaigns to the siege of Sarajevo and to the height of the war in the Srebrenica massacre. in 1995.
In Sarajevo, applause erupted among the spectators. Mayor Benjamina Karic called it “a day of justice” for Sarajevo, Bosnia and the innocent victims of war.
Mladic’s toxic legacy continues to divide Bosnia and his dark shadow has extended far beyond the Balkans.
To the Bosnian Serbs, he is a war hero who fought to protect his people. For Bosnians, mostly Muslims, he will always be a villain responsible for their suffering and loss in wartime.
Nedziba Salihovic, who lost her son and her husband in the bloodshed, watched the court hearing on the big screen in Srebrenica.
“It means a lot to me, my heart is racing,” she said. “He has been punished. It doesn’t matter where he ends up (to serve his sentence). Like the mothers of Srebrenica, he will spend the rest of his life without his family.
Bosnian Serb separatist leader Milorad Dodik called the final verdict “selective justice” and “satanization of Serbs”, which will only deepen the ethnic divide existing in Bosnia so many years after the war.
“The court did not prove Mladic’s direct guilt,” Dodik said. “It is clear that the genocide in Srebrenica never took place.
Mladic’s son Darko, who was part of his defense team, said in The Hague: “This traveling circus (the court) has finished its work as it started. The general had no chance of a fair trial.
Mladic was first indicted in July 1995. After the end of the war in Bosnia, he went into hiding and was finally arrested in 2011 and handed over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia by the pro government. -Western then in power in Serbia.
The judgment was hailed as “an important affirmation of the rule of law” by Kathryne Bomberger, executive director of the International Commission on Missing Persons who helped locate and identify victims of atrocities in Bosnia.
“The ramifications of the judgment in the Mladic case and in previous cases, such as that of Radovan Karadzic, go beyond the Western Balkans. It gives hope to survivors of atrocities, including the families of missing and missing people around the world, that justice can be delivered, ”Bomberger said.
Amnesty International’s Director for Europe, Nils Muižniek, said the decision “sends a powerful message around the world that impunity cannot and will not be tolerated”.
Nedzad Avdic, who survived a mass execution in Srebrenica, said he was satisfied “even if nothing can erase what we have lived or bring back our dead”.
The judgment “will make denial of crimes more difficult. This verdict and others will be the starting point for anyone who cares about the truth, ”he added.
The shadow of Mladic and Karadzic extended far beyond the Balkans. They were revered by foreign far-right supporters for their bloody wartime campaigns.
The Australian who shot dozens of Muslim worshipers in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019 was said to have been inspired by wartime Bosnian Serb leaders, as was Anders Breivik, the white Norwegian supremacist who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011.
The UN tribunal that originally indicted Mladic has since closed. His appeal and other legal issues left by the tribunal were being handled by the United Nations Residual International Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, which is in the same building as the former tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Outside the court, another mother from Srebrenica, Munira Subasic, had a message for young people in Serbia and the Bosnian Serb part.
She urged them to study the court judgments and indictments, and “stop hating and create a better future for themselves and our children.”
Associated Press editors Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, Sabina Niksic in Srebrenica, Bosnia, and videographer Aleksandar Furtula in The Hague contributed.