Former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic is the latest to appear before the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
General Ratko Mladic faces 11 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes stemming from the 1992-to-1995 Bosnia civil war. He, along with Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic, also on trial, is accused of ordering what is considered to be the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II - the massacre in the U.N.-protected Srebrenica enclave.
Marko Hoare, a Balkans expert at London’s Kingston University, says the Bosnian Serb army occupied Srebrenica in July 1995.
“And what the Serbs did was they separated the Muslim male prisoners from the women and the old people - and massacred them systematically to try and stop the flow of possible Bosnian Muslim fighters. So they carried out an act of genocide to rid themselves of unwanted Muslim males. And other Bosnian Muslims were captured trying to escape in Srebrenica in refugee columns and were also massacred. So the systematic massacre of 8,000 civilians,” said Hoare.
David Kaye, an international law expert at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) says more than anyone else, Ratko Mladic has blood on his hands.
“He was instrumental in the [43-month long] siege of Sarajevo [1992-96]. He was instrumental in the siege of Srebrenica and the ensuing massacre in July of 1995," he said. "He was responsible for military activity around the country. He had been a career military officer in the Yugoslav army and then transferred over when the Bosnian Serb army was created and became the leader of the Bosnian Serb army. So he was a professional soldier. He knew the rules of the laws of war and quite clearly broke them and with knowledge. He is really the essential person to bring to justice in the context of the war in Bosnia.”
Kaye says of all the charges leveled against Mladic, the most difficult one to prove is genocide.
“It’s what we among the lawyers call a ‘specific intent crime.’ So that means that not only do you have to prove that let’s say Mladic is responsible for a particular crime, but you have to prove that Mladic was responsible for it with the intent of destroying, in whole or in part, the Bosnian Muslim community or the community in Srebrenica, however you want to describe that community. So again, it’s not just defining that he was responsible for the crime, but that he did it with the particular intent of destroying that group.” said Kaye.
Ratlo Mladic appeared for the first time before judges on June 3. He was arrested in Serbia last month after more than 15 years on the run.
He joins the former Bosnian Serb political leader, Radovan Karadzic, who has been on trial since October 2009. Kaye says the charges against Mladic are very similar to those leveled against Karadzic.
“In an ideal situation, you could have tried Mladic and Karadzic together - they were really partners in crime in the truest sense of the word. The reality is that because the Karadzic trial is so far along, that it really would not be fair to either defendant, and really either to the judges or to the prosecution, to force them into a trial together at this point,” he said.
But Marko Hoare takes a different view.
“Certain people have suggested that the trials should be joined. There is a certain logic to that in the sense that they were very much partners and very much guilty of the same things. So that would perhaps be the sensible step to take. The tribunal hasn’t taken that decision, but if it did, I think it would be a sensible decision,” said Hoare.
During his first appearance before the court on June 3, Mladic said little. He dismissed the charges against him as “monstrous” and “obnoxious” and asked for more time to enter a plea. The judge granted him his request and adjourned the proceedings until July 4.