Wartime Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic has lost his appeal against his 2017 conviction for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the 1992-95 war in Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Mladic, dubbed the Butcher of Bosnia, had challenged his 2017 conviction and life sentence, but a UN appeals chamber upheld the sentence imposed on him by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 2017.
Mladic was indicted on two counts of genocide – across Bosnia & Herzegovina and specifically in Srebrenica, five counts of crimes against humanity and four counts of violations of the laws or customs of war in the most significant war crimes trial in Europe since the Nuremberg tribunal.
The Srebrenica killings were conducted under the command of Mladic, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic’s military chief. 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed and 25,000 women and children were deported from the UN-designated ‘safe area’ of Srebrenica, in the worst atrocity in Europe since the Second World War.
However, Mladic was found not guilty of genocide across Bosnia, a conclusion that angered Bosnian Muslims.
On June 8, the five-person panel of the Appeals Chamber of the United Nations International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals found that Mladic had failed to provide evidence to invalidate the convictions against him, a statement from the appeals chamber said.
However, the chamber dismissed the appeal brought by the prosecution, which had sought a second conviction against Mladic for crimes committed against Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats in other areas.
Commenting on the verdict, prosecutor Serge Brammertz said “The time has come to accept the truth.
“Mladic ranks among the most notorious war criminals in modern history. He intentionally used his military command to attack, kill, torture, rape and expel innocent civilians for no reason other than their ethnicity and religion. He inflamed ethnic hatred and lied to those he purported to defend in order to justify his crimes. Given the power of life or death over thousands of innocent men and boys in Srebrenica, he ordered their total elimination and committed genocide,” Brammertz’s statement said.
“On behalf of my office, I would like to recognise the victims and survivors who never gave up on their quest for justice. We extend our deepest appreciation to them, because without them we would not have been able to do our work. We hope that today’s judgment provides them some measure of solace and a feeling that, despite all the harms they suffered and how long they waited, justice is possible,” he added.
Sefik Dzaferovic, the Bosniak member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, said that life imprisonment is partial justice and satisfaction for victims. "It's important because such a man will never be free. In the face of the whole world, his crimes are called by his real name. Mladic will only be remembered as a war criminal and nothing more."
Bosnian Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic said the verdict was of “immeasurable importance” for the future of Bosnia and the entire region, “because only truth and justice can build lasting peace and stability”.
Munira Subasic, president of the Association of Mothers of Srebrenica and Zepa enclaves, which has campaigned for justice for those killed in the massacre, was present for the handing down of the verdict alongside three other mothers of Srebrenica victims.
“Ratko Mladic has personally commanded the genocide in Srebrenica. We remember his words as if they were spoken yesterday. The pain we felt then, we still feel it today,” said Subasic in a statement.
"No one can bring our children, husbands, and loved ones back but justice has prevailed. He is guilty of genocide in Srebrenica and Bosnia & Herzegovina. We hope that this trial and the Srebrenica genocide serves as a warning and a lesson for the future generations so that it may never again be repeated.”
There was also a swift response from the international community.
US President Joe Biden commented on the verdict, saying “I sincerely hope leaders in the region will respect this judgment and reinforce its importance for the rule of law.”
“The final @unirmct verdict [against] Ratko Mladić brings to an end a key trial in Europe’s recent history for war crimes, including genocide. Today’s decision is an opportunity for BiH leaders to lead the way in honouring victims & promote reconciliation,” tweeted EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.
Nato secretary general Jens Stolternberg said he welcomed the final ruling of in the case against Mladic for “outrageous crimes”.
He added that “The [Western Balkans] region remains strategically important to our Alliance. We will continue to contribute to stability and security across the Western Balkans, promoting peace and reconciliation.”
While Mladic is widely reviled by Bosnia’s Muslim and Croat populations, he still has many supporters in the mainly ethnic Serb Republika Srpska. However, in the Republika Srpska the announced rallies in support of Mladic were absent; most cities in the entity, no one came to the rallies.
The Prime Minister of Republika Srpska Radovan Viskovic spoke out in favour of Mladic following the verdict, saying” “If there was law and justice, the verdict would be acquittal”, according to a statement from Viskovic’s party the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD).
Top Serbian politicians were initially quiet following the verdict. However, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic later said: "Serbs, head on, neither Serbia nor the Serbian people have been condemned."
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic told TV Pink that Serbia is "fully committed and advocates investigating all war crimes and bringing all indictees to justice". However, she criticised The
Hague Tribunal, calling it a political court that has contributed to "worse intolerance than we had 26 years ago".
Brammertz called for Mladic to be condemned by “all responsible officials in the former Yugoslavia and around the world. His name should be consigned to the list of history’s most depraved and barbarous figures.”
“This is not a judgment against the Serbian people, who Mladic and his supporters have manipulated for decades. Mladic’s guilt is his, and his alone,” he added.
Writing on Twitter, Turkovic also urged deniers of the Srebrenica genocide to accept the truth.
“Denial of genocide and celebration of convicted war crimes, which we are still witnessing, are the main obstacles to lasting peace and lead to the destabilisation of the entire region and block progress towards the EU, which most people in Bosnia and Serbia want,” she wrote.