Michael Dobbs

The Geneva Conventions and Mladic’s funny hat

The Geneva Conventions and Mladic’s funny hat

During his pre-trial appearances at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal, Ratko Mladic has accused the court of failing to respect the "Geneva conventions." In the video excerpts above, you can hear him complain that he has been brought to the court "in handcuffs" and prohibited from wearing a Russian fur hat in the courtroom. 

Mladic’s claim that he is being denied his rights as a prisoner in The Hague would be amusing if the circumstances were not so tragic. As commander of the Bosnian Serb army in Srebrenica, Mladic was responsible for the murders of some 7,000 Muslim men and boys captured by his forces following the fall of the United Nations "safe area" in July 1995. His troops refused even simple requests for water prior to executing their prisoners — as you can see from this video of a Srebrenica execution.

The latest version of the Geneva conventions on the "laws and customs of war" were adopted in 1949 in an attempt by the international community to avoid a repetition of the atrocities of World War II. They contain several clauses that feature in the criminal indictment against Mladic.  He has been accused of violating specific provisions of Article 3, most notably sub-section (1)(a) bannng "murder of all kinds."

(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms…shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:

(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

(b) taking of hostages.

No mention of a ban on handcuffs or right of prisoners to wear headgear of their choosing!

Mladic is also accused of violating Article 3(1)(b) which bans the taking of hostages. According to the indictment, Bosnian Serb forces detained over 200 UN peacekeepers and military observers in various locations in May and June 1995 in an attempt to prevent NATO air strikes against their positions. 

The video at the top of this page suggests that Mladic is now obsessed by his rights under international conventions that he all but ignored while he was a military commander.  Because he stepped away from his microphone, some of his ranting is inaudible to the interpreters and not translated into English. "I am a half-dead person," he tells his lawyer Branko Lukic in the untranslated section, around 1’50. "They do not have the right to bring me [in handcuffs]."