United Nations judges this week sentenced former Bosnian Serbian commander Ratko Mladic to life in prison after finding him guilty of genocide and war crimes during the brutal Balkans conflicts over two decades ago.
But the man dubbed the “Butcher of Bosnia” was not present in court to hear the verdict, having been dragged out of the courtroom after loudly accusing the judges of “lying.”
Judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) found Mladic guilty on 10 counts including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity such as murder and deportation. But he was acquitted of one charge of genocide in certain municipalities. About 100,000 people were killed and 2.2 million displaced in the 1992-1995 war when ethnic rivalries tore Yugoslavia apart.
Judges said Bosnian Serb forces under Mladic’s command carried out “mass executions” and showed “little or no respect for human life or dignity.”
“For having committed these crimes, the chamber sentences Mr Ratko Mladic to life imprisonment,” presiding Judge Alphons Orie said as applause broke out in the public gallery. He added that the crimes were “amongst the most heinous known to humankind”.
Wednesday’s verdict was long awaited by tens of thousands of victims across the bitterly divided region. Dozens gathered early outside the courtroom, many clutching photos of loved ones who died or are among the 7,000 still missing. It was an emotional day for victims, some of whom sobbed in the gallery as the judges recalled brutal scenes of rape and murder. In Srebrenica there were tears of joy. The court found Mladic guilty of genocide in that northeastern town, where troops under his command slaughtered almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys.
Victims were marched away, shot in the back and dumped in mass graves in one of the darkest episodes in the conflict, which has been called the worst atrocity on European soil since World War II.
Chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz said the verdict was a “milestone” for the court. Mladic’s was the last genocide trial before the tribunal closes its doors on December 31, having indicted 161 people since it was set up in 1993.
Ratko believed himself to be a crusading defender of the Serbs but in truth led mass slaughter at the hands of his forces. The ruthless commander of Bosnian Serb troops, Mladic came to symbolise a barbaric plan to rid swathes of Bosnian territory of Croats and Muslims and carve out a Serb-only state. UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein described him as “the epitome of evil” after Wednesday’s verdict.
Captured in 2011 after 16 years on the run, Mladic was Europe’s most wanted man. To the families of war victims, he will forever be associated with the bloody 44-month siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre. Mladic presented the sacking of the eastern Bosnian enclave as retribution against “the Turks” for a massacre of Serbs under the Ottoman Empire.
Mladic denied all the charges before him in court, describing them as “obnoxious” at his first court appearance in 2011. “I defended my country and my people,” he said.
Born in the village of Bozinovici in eastern Bosnia, his life was struck by bloodshed as a toddler, when his father was killed in battle by the Ustasha, Croatia’s fascist World War II regime. Mladic followed his parent’s military path and was a colonel in the Yugoslav Army when the federation began to crumble in 1991. In 1994, at the height of the war, Mladic’s only daughter Ana committed suicide in Belgrade, aged 23, with her father’s favourite pistol. Those close to the general said that he was pushed over the edge by her death. It came a year before the Srebrenica massacre took place.