Ratko Mladić must get life sentence, say war crimes prosecutors

Lawyers at The Hague say any lesser punishment for Bosnian Serb military commander would be ‘insult to his victims’

Prosecutors at The Hague war crimes tribunal have called for a life sentence to be imposed on the Bosnian Serb military commander, Ratko Mladić, for genocide and crimes against humanity committed by his forces in the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

Any lesser penalty would be “an insult to the victims, living and dead, and an affront to justice” said Alan Tieger, closing the prosecution’s case on Wednesday at the end of a trial that has taken more than four and a half years at the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Mladić, now aged 74, listened to the prosecutors’ closing arguments impassively, watching as they showed videos of him from the war, striding through captured towns, issuing orders to his soldiers.

Ratko Mladić at the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, December 2016.
Ratko Mladić at the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, December 2016. Photograph: AP

He was a senior officer in the Yugoslav army in 1991 when the socialist federation fell apart. He commanded Bosnian Serb forces that cut the country in two when Bosnia declared its independence the next year and remained in command through the more than three years of war, in which 100,000 people died.

Mladić is accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and two counts of genocide. One is for the siege of Sarajevo, where his troops ringed the city for 46 months, the longest siege in modern history, subjecting its residents to relentless shelling and sniping.

“The time has come for Ratko Mladić to be held accountable for each of his victims and all the communities he destroyed,” Tieger said. “Nobody can even imagine the depth of suffering for which Mladić is responsible,” he added.

In their three-day closing statement, prosecutors played a recording of an intercepted radio conversation in May 1992 with one of his officers, in which Mladić ordered artillery fire on two Sarajevo districts “because not many Serbs live there”.

“Let’s drive them out of their minds, so they cannot sleep,” he is heard saying.

One of the prosecution lawyers, Adam Weber, told the tribunal that Mladić’s “personal approval … was necessary” for Serb forces to shell the city using a specially modified bomb that was hurled into central Sarajevo in the later stages of the war.

The second genocide count was for the slaughter of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys from the town of Srebrenica. Most of them were taken away in buses after the supposedly UN-protected enclave fell to Mladić’s troops, lined up and shot, with their bodies dumped in mass graves.

“There’s too much pain, there’s too much for any of us to truly comprehend the nature and scope of the shared misery of the women and survivors of the Srebrenica community,” said Peter McCloskey, a prosecution lawyer. “We can, however, strike back, as mandated by the security council with the creation of this tribunal to expose the horrific crimes of this war and try those most responsible for them.”

McCloskey added: “We have identified the key men responsible for it. We have Mladić in the dock answering for his crimes.”

Mladić has pleaded innocent to the charges and his defence counsel will make its closing statements between 9 and 13 December. A verdict is expected next year.

The Mladić trial is one of the last cases to be heard by the ICTY, which was set up in 1993. The Bosnian Serb political leader, Radovan Karadžić, is to appeal his 40-year sentence, which was issued by the court in March this year. The failure to impose life imprisonment, despite the fact that Karadžić was found guilty of genocide for the Srebrenica massacre, sparked fury among Bosnian survivors.

Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić in April 1995.
Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić in April 1995. Photograph: Ranko Cukovic/Reuters

Refik Hodzic, a survivor from Prijedor, and now communications director for the International Centre for Transitional Justice, said the ICTY trials had not succeeded in preventing a wave of revisionism and denial in the Serb-controlled half of Bosnia, where some of the convicted war criminals are hailed as heroes.

The proceedings in The Hague, he said, “presented the reality of the roles played by Mladic and other cogs in that machine, which has undertaken this dirty work. “

“One could clearly see from the evidence presented that Mladić, Karadžić and others from the Serb leadership of the time were not mythical characters – neither monsters, as the Bosniak victim narrative paints them, nor heroes and “fathers of the nation” as they are presented by the dominant Serb politic – but banal, self-centred opportunists drunk on the unchecked power to command lives and deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.”


Julian Borger World affairs editor

The GuardianTramp

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