International judges will present their verdict on the appeal of the former Bosnian Serbian military chief on Tuesday Ratko Mladic, sentenced to life for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the Bosnian war from 1992 to 1995.
Nicknamed the “Butcher of the Balkans”, the former general was sentenced in the first instance in 2017 for his role in the Srebrenica massacre, the worst in Europe since World War II, which international justice classified as an act of genocide.
Mladic was arrested in 2011 after 16 years on the run and remains in custody in The Hague. Whoever was known as an imposing man is currently an elderly man in his 80s who suffers from health problems, according to his lawyers.
More than a quarter of a century after the conflict, the former general retains the aura of a hero among his people, although his name is associated with the war crimes in Bosnia, the siege of Sarajevo and the massacre of Srebrenica, where more than 8,000 men and Muslim teenagers were killed by Bosnian Serb forces.
International court prosecutor Serge Brammertz, a Belgian national, said he remains “cautiously optimistic” about the ruling. “I cannot imagine another verdict other than the confirmation” of at least one of the previous convictions”, he pointed.
Despite the pandemic, relatives of the victims, such as Munira Subasic, president of an association of “mothers of Srebrenica”, will be present in The Hague to see the “executioner” in the eye.
The verdict will be released at 3:00 p.m. (1:00 p.m. GMT) and broadcast online 30 minutes apart, by the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, which took over from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), after its closing in 2017.
Mladic was the military face of a brutal trio led on the political side by former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, protagonists of the Bosnian war, which left around 100,000 dead and 2.2 million displaced.
Milosevic died of a heart attack in 2006 in a cell in The Hague before his trial was concluded, while Karadzic is serving a life sentence for the genocide in Srebrenica.
Mladic was found guilty of genocide for personally policing the mascare in the Srebrenica enclave, as part of a campaign to expel Muslims.
Images from the time show him giving children sweets before they and the women of Srebrenica were removed from the site by bus, while the men were executed in a forest.
He was also found guilty of orchestrating an “ethnic cleansing” campaign to expel Muslims and Bosnians, with a view to creating a Greater Serbia after the dissolution of the then Yugoslavia.
The judgment in the first instance was appealed by both the defense and the prosecution, which attributes crimes of genocide to Mladic in other municipalities beyond Srebrenica.
The former general’s representation, for its part, asks for his acquittal on charges of genocide and defends that there are no links between his client and the 1995 massacre.
His lawyers will pay particular attention to the findings of the president of the court Prisca Nyambe, a native of Zambia, who in 2012 issued a dissenting opinion in the judgment against Zdravko Tolimir, Mladic’s right arm.
Among yours, trust is rare.
“It is enough to be Serbian to be sentenced in The Hague,” Vojin Pavlovic, president of a nationalist association that organized a tribute to Mladic on the eve, told AFP.
In the central square of Bratunac, thirty miles from Srebrenica, they screened a film about the former Serbian general, which was attended by about fifty people.
“His work is great and should never be forgotten,” said Pavlovic.
“Executioner” for some, “hero” for others, the verdict on Mladic will not end the divisions in the Balkans, warned prosecutor Brammertz, but it will only be “the end of a chapter.”