Michael Dobbs

Unrepentant Mladic goes on trial

Nearly seventeen years after he was first indicted, former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic went on trial today for crimes against humanity that culminated in Europe’s worst massacre since World War II in July 1995. In a courtroom packed with relatives of victims of the three-and-a half year Bosnia war, prosecutor Dermot Groome read out ...

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Nearly seventeen years after he was first indicted, former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic went on trial today for crimes against humanity that culminated in Europe’s worst massacre since World War II in July 1995.

In a courtroom packed with relatives of victims of the three-and-a half year Bosnia war, prosecutor Dermot Groome read out a catalog of crimes allegedly committed by Mladic’s men, ranging from the taking of hostages and shelling of civilians to rapes and mass killing.  The 69-year old general is accused of double genocide, stemming from a massive ethnic cleansing campaign at the beginning of the war and the killing of 7,000 Muslim prisoners in Srebrenica at the end.

Dressed in a dark suit, Mladic waved and gave the thumbs-up sign to spectators in the public gallery at the start of a trial that is expected to take at least two years. He also held up a book emblazoned with the image of King Peter II of Yugoslavia, who was overthrown by the Nazis at the beginning of World War II.

“Mladic wanted to send a message to us that he, too, is some kind of king,” said Munira Subasic, who lost 22 members of her extended family in the Srebrenica killings, including her husband and son. “But I am happy because he is finally in jail. God will punish him.”

The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal was established in 1993 as a symbolic gesture to the victims of a war the international community seemed powerless to stop. An international warrant for Mladic’s arrest was first issued in July 1995, shortly after the Srebrenica massacre, but he succeeded in evading his pursuers until May 2011, when he was arrested at a relative’s house in the village of Lazarevo in northern Serbia and transferred to the Hague.

For the most part, Mladic reacted impassively as Groome outlined the main points of his case, including what he depicted as a “criminal conspiracy” to expel Muslims and Croats from large swathes of Bosnia. He occasionally scribbled notes to himself, nodding in apparent approval as the American prosecutor played video clips of the 44-month siege of Sarajevo and an interview in which he boasted that he had turned the city into “a mousetrap” from which there was no escape.

Previewing the evidence against Mladic, Groome quoted from war diaries that were found in his Belgrade home while he was on the run. The diaries outlined plans to create an ethnically pure Bosnian Serb statelet by expelling hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Croats from northern and eastern Bosnia. The notebooks include detailed annotations of the results of ethnic cleansing, including the boast that there were only two Muslims left in the town of Bratunac, down from a 64 percent Muslim majority before the war.

After Groome completes his presentation tomorrow, the court is scheduled to go into recess until May 29, when the prosecution will begin calling witnesses. But that timetable was called into question today when Judge Alphons Orie criticized the prosecution for failing to meet court-imposed deadlines for the disclosure of evidence to the defense. The judge will decide later this week whether to order a delay in the trial.

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