The Butcher of Bosnia

General Mladic

More than 20 years after the end of the Bosnian war, General Mladic, former Bosnian Serb army commander was finally sentenced to life imprisonment. The man who earned his nickname as ‘the butcher of Bosnia’ has now been convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Until his arrest in 2011 he was one of the world’s most wanted fugitives, yet in parts of Serbia he remains a symbol of defiance and national hero.

The United Nations backed international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague found Mladic guilty of ten offences (out of eleven) involving extermination, murder and persecution of civilian populations. The separate charges relate to ethnic cleansing, attacks on the besieged civilians in Sarajevo, the massacre of Muslim men at Srebrenica and holding UN personnel hostage to deter NATO airstrikes.

Interestingly, Mladic was found not guilty of one charge of genocide in the municipalities. Whilst we know that mass-murder, torture and rape were commonplace in camps around the country, how can we then deduce that this is not genocide? It begs the question, was it acquitted because these atrocities happened under the nose of the international community?

Srebrenica was Europe’s worst mass killing since the second world war. Over 8000 Bosnian Muslims lost their lives at the hands of Bosnian Serbs and the commanding officer responsible was General Mladic. During camera presence Mladic gave out sweets to the Muslims in Srebrenica and reassured them there was nothing to worry about. Once the cameras had left he ordered the slaughter and rape of thousands of Muslims and those remaining were removed to clear the way for an ethnically pure Serb enclave.

Mladic was indicted for war crimes and went into hiding in Serbia until he was found and arrested in 2011. Later the same year he appeared before the United Nations tribunal in The Hague. His trial lasted 530 days and now, aged 74, and 22 years after the atrocities of Srebrenica, he will live out his days in prison.

The trial is arguably the most significant war crimes case in recent history with nearly 600 people, including survivors of the conflict, giving evidence. The remit of The Hague tribunal was also to promote reconciliation, and in this respect there is none in the Balkans. Maldic wanted a Bosnian Serb mini-state and in this respect he got exactly what he wanted as few returned to the areas after the atrocities of the war. Life is much more sectarian since the war with an understanding of mutual hatred. The verdict of the trial will change very little; the legacy of the war continues.

This is the final case to be handled by the ICTY, which is set to be dissolved by the end of 2017.

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