THE HAGUE (REUTERS) – United Nations war crimes judges on Tuesday (June 8) upheld a genocide conviction and life sentence against former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic, rejecting all grounds of appeal against a lower tribunal’s verdict.
Mladic, 78, led Bosnian Serb forces during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war. He was convicted in 2017 on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes including terrorising the civilian population of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo during a 43-month siege, and the killing of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995.
He had been convicted by trial and ordered to serve life in prison, but appealed against both the verdict and sentence.
Wearing a dress shirt and black suit, Mladic stood looking at the floor as his conviction and sentence were upheld in court.
The appeals chamber “dismisses Mladic appeal in its entirety…, dismisses the prosecution’s appeal in its entirety…, affirms the sentence of life imprisonment imposed on Mladic by the trial chamber,” said a written summary of the appeals judgment.
The outcome caps 25 years of trials at the ad hoc International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which convicted 90 people. The ICTY is one of the predecessors of the International Criminal Court, the world’s first permanent war crimes court, also seated in The Hague.
“Today is a historic day not only for us mothers of Srebrenica but for all of the Balkans, Europe and the world,” Munira Subasic, whose son and husband were killed by nationalist Serb forces that overran Srebrenica, said ahead of the hearing.
“Everywhere his army went, everywhere his boots went, he committed genocide in the villages, in the cities, in the houses… He killed everyone just because they were not Serbs.”
US President Joe Biden said the “historic judgment” shows that “those who commit horrific crimes will be held accountable.”
“It also reinforces our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world,” he said.
UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said in a statement that the rejection of Mladic’s appeal “highlights the determination of the international justice system to ensure accountability no matter how long it may take – in Mladic’s case, nearly three decades after he committed his appalling crimes.”
“Political (decision),” Milorad Guzijan, a pensioner in largest Bosnian Serb city Banja Luka, said in reaction to the appeals verdict. “There is no justice there, just politics.”
The appeals judges said Mladic would remain in custody in The Hague while arrangements were made for his transfer to a state where he will serve his sentence. It is not yet known which country will take him.
Fourteen European countries have taken in UN court convicts to serve out their sentences so far. Former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic was transferred to a British prison in May this year.
Lawyers for Mladic had argued that the former general could not be held responsible for possible crimes committed by his subordinates. They sought an acquittal or a retrial.
Prosecutors had asked the appeals panel to uphold Mladic’s conviction and life sentence in full. They also wanted him to be found guilty of an additional charge of genocide over a campaign of ethnic cleansing in the early years of Bosnia’s war that included detention camps that shocked the world.
That prosecution appeal was also dismissed.
Mladic had been found by the lower ICTY court of playing a leading role in some of the most gruesome crimes committed on European soil since the Nazi Holocaust of World War II.
For the Srebrenica genocide, the judges determined that Mladic had an absolutely pivotal role as he controlled both the military and police units involved in the round-up and massacre.
“The accused’s acts were so instrumental to the commission of the crimes that without them, the crimes would not have been committed as they were,” the court had found.