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Life sentence for ‘Butcher of Bosnia’ a source of satisfaction for victims, legal academic says

Ratko Mladić’s guilty conviction for war crimes against humanity has an important meaning for victims, University of Queensland academic Dr Melanie O’Brien has said.

user iconMelissa Coade 27 November 2017 The Bar
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Gen. Ratko Mladić was sentenced to life in prison by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) last week. The former Bosnian Serb commander was deemed by the tribunal to be the orchestrator of a bloody campaign to create one homogenous state.

Writing for The Conversation, legal academic Dr Melanie O’Brien said the end of Mladić’s trail in The Hague was marked with courtroom drama as the accused man requested a break halfway through the verdict summary announcement.

“After a lengthy break, the court was informed that Mladić had high blood pressure, but on medical advice, deemed it appropriate to continue. At this point, Mladić refused to sit and began shouting at the judges: ‘this is a lie’ and ‘shame on you’,” Dr O’Brien said.


“He was thrown out of court, and watched the rest of the proceedings from another room. This unfortunately meant that victims were unable to see his reaction to the long-awaited verdict and sentencing.”

Dr O’Brien said that last week’s guilty verdict was part of a long road to justice for victims, who struggled for over 25 years to heal with the trauma of the devastating civil war. The trial against Mladić began in 2012 and concluded in 2015.

In 1992, Mladić, who became known as the “Butcher of Bosnia”, was installed as the commander of the Bosnian Serb army.

Mladić led the army’s participation in atrocities committed during the reign of Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević, who was also tried by the ICTY. Milošević died before a conviction was made.

It was believed that 1992 was the deadliest year of the Milošević campaign with an estimated death toll of 45,000 victims. People were killed in public, at home or inside a number of concentration camps.

“Convicting the high-ranking Mladić is symbolic and momentous, as he was the commander of the soldiers who carried out these actions,” Dr O’Brien said.

“The atrocities included the siege of Sarajevo, which lasted for 44 months from 1992-95. Some 10,000 people died during the siege, including many children.

“Some of Mladić’s other crimes were committed at internment camps such as Omarska and Foča, where thousands were tortured and raped. He has also been held responsible for the kidnapping of UN peacekeepers in order to leverage NATO to stop air strikes.”

The ICTY found Mladić was instrumental in the brutality of the era, and also guilty of joint criminal enterprise, alongside Milošević and Bosnian Serb politician Radovan Karadžić. He was also convicted for his involvement in the Bosnian Muslim mass killings at Srebrenica in July 1995, where some 8,000 boys and men were buried in mass graves.

Dr O’Brien said that the consequences of the ruling was also important because it was difficult to prove genocide. Prosecutors in trials of this kind must show that the accused had “special intent” to eliminate part or whole of a specific population.

“The confirmation that the Srebrenica massacre was indeed a genocide is important, because many Bosnian Serbs continue to deny the fact. Victims hope the ruling will contribute to a broader acknowledgement, which in turn could help the reconciliation process,” Dr O’Brien said.

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