Former Bosnian Serb army commander known as the butcher of Bosnia sentenced to life imprisonment more than 20 years after Srebrenica massacre
The former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladić, nicknamed the ‘butcher of Bosnia’, has been sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
More than 20 years after the Srebrenica massacre, Mladic was found guilty at the United Nations-backed international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague of 10 offences involving extermination, murder and persecution of civilian populations.
As he entered the courtroom, Mladić gave a broad smile and thumbs up to the cameras – a gesture that infuriated relatives of the victims. His defiance shifted into detachment as the judgment began: Mladić played with his fingers and nodded occasionally, looking initially relaxed.
The verdict was disrupted for more than half an hour when he asked the judges for a bathroom break. After he returned, defence lawyers requested that proceedings be halted or shortened because of his high blood pressure. The judges denied the request. Mladić then stood up shouting “this is all lies” and “I’ll fuck your mother”. He was forcibly removed from the courtroom. The verdicts were read in his absence.
Mladić, 74, was chief of staff of Bosnian Serb forces from 1992 until 1996, during the ferocious civil wars and ethnic cleansing that followed the break-up of the Yugoslav state.
The one-time fugitive from international justice faced 11 charges, two of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and four of violations of the laws or customs of war. He was cleared of one count of genocide, but found guilty of all other charges. The separate counts related to “ethnic cleansing” operations in Bosnia, sniping and shelling attacks on besieged civilians in Sarajevo, the massacre of Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica and taking UN personnel hostage in an attempt to deter Nato airstrikes.
The trial in The Hague, which took 530 days across more than four years, is arguably the most significant war crimes case in Europe since the Nuremberg trials, in part because of the scale of the atrocities involved. Almost 600 people gave evidence for the prosecution and defence, including survivors of the conflict.
Delivering the verdicts, judge Alphons Orie said Mladić’s crimes “rank among the most heinous known to humankind and include genocide and extermination”.
Orie dismissed mitigation pleas by the defence that Mladić was of “good character”, had diminished mental capacity and was in poor physical health.
Relatives of victims flew into the Netherlands to attend the hearing, determined to see Mladić receive justice decades after the end of the war in which more than 100,000 people were killed.
Among those present was Fikret Alić, the Bosnian who was photographed as an emaciated prisoner behind the wire of a prison camp in 1992. “Justice has won and the war criminal has been convicted,” he said after the verdict. Others were reduced to tears by the judge’s description of past atrocities.