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‘Butcher of Bosnia’ gets life in war crimes case

The UN tribunal on war crimes in the former Yugoslavia has convicted ex-Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic to life in prison for ordering the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995.

Initially looking relaxed, Mladic listened intently as presiding Judge Alphons Orie began reading the judgment on 11 charges during a court session at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on Wednesday. However, Mladic was later removed from the court for causing disruptions during the reading of the verdict.

The Srebrenica massacre was Europe’s worst atrocity since World War Two. Mladic had pleaded not guilty to all of the 11 charges and is expected to appeal.

Prosecutors had demanded a life sentence for the 74-year-old former general, who was the Bosnian Serb army commander during Bosnia’s 1992-95 conflict and was also charged with crimes against humanity over the siege of Sarajevo, during which 11,000 civilians were killed by shelling and sniper fire.

People, including victims, protest in front of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, on November 22, 2017, prior to the issuance of a verdict in the trial of former Bosnian Serbian commander Ratko Mladic. (Photo by AFP)

At the time, Srebrenica, which is located near Bosnia’s eastern border with Serbia, had been designated a “safe area” by the United Nations and was defended by lightly-armed UN peacekeepers, who nevertheless surrendered when Mladic’s forces stormed the area on July 11, 1995.

Dutch peacekeepers stood by helplessly as Serb forces separated Muslim men and boys from women, then transported the males out of sight on buses or marched them away to be shot dead.

Mladic’s lawyers argued that his responsibility for murder and the ethnic cleansing of civilians by Serb forces and allied paramilitaries was never proven beyond reasonable doubt and that he should not get any more than 15 years if convicted.

Nicknamed the “Butcher of Bosnia,” Mladic is still viewed by some of his compatriots as a national hero for leading the rapid capture of 70 percent of Bosnia after its Serbs revolted against a Muslim-Croat declaration of independence from Yugoslavia.

According to prosecutors, the ultimate scheme pursued by Mladic, Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic, and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic was to purge Bosnia of non-Serbs — a strategy that became known as “ethnic cleansing” — and carve out a “Greater Serbia” from the ashes of the old federal Yugoslavia.

Arguing for life imprisonment for Mladic, Prosecutor Alan Tieger said anything else “would be an insult to victims and an affront to justice.”

Mladic was indicted along with Karadzic in 1995, shortly after the Srebrenica killings, but evaded capture until 2011.

The ICTY indicted a total of 161 people from Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo. It has convicted 83, more than 60 of them ethnic Serbs.

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