‘Butcher of Bosnia’ Blasts Genocide Charges at UN Court

Former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic enters the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, in November 2017. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, Pool, File)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — The former military leader known as the “Butcher of Bosnia” told a United Nations appeals court on Wednesday that the case against him “has gone down the drain.” 

Former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic’s rambling remarks were the last statements made in two days of hearings, repeatedly delayed by technical difficulties, in which both the defense and the prosecution raised appeals over Mladic’s 2017 conviction of 10 counts of war crimes and genocide. The defense wants Mladic’s sentence reduced or the guilty verdict overturned. The prosecution wants him to be convicted of an 11th count of genocide that he was initially acquitted of. 

Prior to Mladic speaking, defense lawyer Dragan Ivetic warned the court he had doubts about his client’s ability to “understand the consequences of these proceedings.”

Mladic, who stood behind a Plexiglas shield, demanded to be allowed to speak for 31 minutes, rather than the allotted 10. He accused the lead lawyer of the prosecution team, Laurel Baig, of being “satanic” and “speaking like a snake.”

“This indictment of yours has gone down the drain,” he said.

He also accused the “Western mafia,” the Vatican and former U.S. President George H. W. Bush of conspiring to cause the war in Bosnia before he was cut off by the presiding judge. 

Ratko Mladic attends the second day of his appeals hearing challenging his genocide conviction in The Hague, Netherlands, on Wednesday.

The former general, whose health has been frequently mentioned over the two-day hearing, entered the courtroom wearing a mask but soon removed it. Lawyers for the 78-year old claim he is unable to assist in his defense because he is suffering from dementia. The hearings had already been delayed twice, once for Mladic to undergo surgery and a second time because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Most of Wednesday’s session was taken up by the prosecution’s response to the defense’s appeal, which alleges that judges in the trial court were biased against Mladic and convicted him of so-called “unscheduled incidents,” or crimes the prosecution never charged him with, as well as crimes that took place outside of the military command.

“Their goal was to make the enclave disappear, to empty it, to make it Serb territory,” Baig told the mostly empty courtroom, referring to the Srebrenica massacre, where Bosnian Serb forces murdered more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys who had taken refuge in a supposed U.N. safe zone.

According to Baig, Mladvic took a victory walk through town and called it “Serb Srebrenica” following the killings. He was convicted of genocide for ordering the massacre. 

Presiding Judge Prisca Nyambe, who was in her home country of Zambia and connected to The Hague courtroom via video link, adjusted the Covid-19 cleaning scheduling after a complaint on Tuesday from Mladic that it was too taxing. Lawyers on Tuesday could speak for an hour before having an hour cleaning break but on Wednesday that break was reduced to 40 minutes. 

Journalists and the public were not allowed in the courtroom for the hearing but could watch via live stream. Three of the four judges were also not present, instead connected by video.

Late in the afternoon, the prosecution and the defense addressed the prosecution’s appeal.

“Those crimes are Mladvic’s crimes,” Baig said of the genocide against Bosnian Muslims and Croats in the municipalities of Foca, Kotor-Varos, Prijedor, Sanski Most and Vlasenica in 1992. 

The U.N.’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia found in 2017 that while a large number of Bosnian Muslims and Croats were killed in those areas, the conditions for the criminal act of genocide had not been fulfilled.

“There is only one reasonable conclusion left: Mladvic wanted to destroy the Bosnian Muslim community in all of these municipalities,” Baig said. 

But the defense team pushed backed.

“We do not deny that others…engaged in crimes, but they have nothing to with Mr. Mladic,” said Ivetic. The attorney repeatedly denied that Mladvic had any control over the forces who committed the murders and claimed his client was trying to work with the U.N. peacekeeping forces. 

Mladic oversaw the Bosnian Serb forces during the Bosnian War, a conflict that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia and killed more than 100,000 people between 1992 and 1995. The former general was on the run for 16 years, after being indicted in 1995 by the U.N. tribunal established to prosecute war crimes that occurred during the conflict. He was captured in 2011 while heading out for a walk in his garden in the village of Lazarevo, north of the Serbian capital Belgrade.

The tribunal was closed in 2017 and the appeal is being heard by International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, the U.N. body that is also overseeing the winddown of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. 

A ruling on the appeal is not expected until 2021.

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