Appeals judges will hand down a verdict against former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic on Tuesday, ending the last Bosnian genocide trial before the UN court for the former Yugoslavia. Mladic, 78, led Bosnian Serb forces during the 1992-95 Bosnian War.
He was convicted in 2017 on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes including terrorizing the civilian population of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo during a 43-month siege, and the killing of more than 8 000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica, Bosnia, in 1995.
“It’s really the last big trial. It is an endless story that many people thought would never end and now it will,” said University of Utrecht historian Iva Vukusic.
The verdict comes after 25 years of trials at the ad hoc United Nations war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia which convicted 90 people.
It is widely considered to be one of the predecessors of the International Criminal Court, the world’s first permanent war crimes court, also seated in The Hague.
Vukusic stressed that Monday’s verdict sends a message not only to victims in the former Yugoslavia but to others experiencing conflict, such as people in Syria. “It sends a message that things are possible even when it seems hopeless,” she said.
Mladic evaded justice for 15 years until his arrest in Serbia in 2011.
UN prosecutor Serge Brammertz stressed the importance of the Mladic ruling for victims who live with the trauma of the 1990s Yugoslav conflict daily. “If you speak to the survivors, the mothers (of Srebrenica) who lost their husbands, their sons: their lives really stopped on the day of the genocide,” he told journalists ahead of the verdict.
In the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo residents lamented that Mladic was still seen as a hero in the Serb-dominated region of the ethnically divided country.
Lawyers for Mladic appealed his conviction and argued the former general could not be held responsible for possible crimes committed by his subordinates.
They asked for an acquittal or a retrial.
Prosecutors want Mladic’s conviction to be upheld, along with his life sentence.
If his conviction is confirmed on appeal, the tribunal will start looking for a host country willing to house Mladic for the rest of his sentence.
Fourteen different European countries have taken in UN court convicts to serve out their sentences so far.
Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was transferred to a British prison in May this year.