Ratko Mladic found guilty at Bosnian war crimes trial

UN war crimes judges have found former Bosnian Serbian general Ratko Mladic guilty of crimes against humanity and genocide during Bosnia's 1992-1995 war. Mladic was removed from the courtroom after an angry outburst.

Former Bosnian Serbian commander Ratko Mladic, was found guilty of charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide for his role in the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica, ruled the United Nations' Yugoslav war crimes tribunal on Wednesday.

Mladic was sentenced to life in prison by the three judge panel on the United Nations' International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

"For having committed these crimes, the chamber sentences Ratko Mladic to life imprisonment," judge Alphons Orie told the court after convicting Mladic on ten out of 11 charges.

Bosnien Herzegowina eine bosnische Frau reagiert in Potocari auf das Urteil von Ratko Mladic in Den Haag

Survivors of the Srebrenica massacre celebrated as they watched the verdict live on television

The reading of the verdict was temporarily adjourned after an angry outburst by 74-year-old Mladic, who was removed from the courtroom.

His defense team had tried to delay the hearing on the grounds of Mladic's increased blood pressure, saying that he was in ill health after suffering three strokes.

Mladic's lawyer said that they plan on appealing the ruling.

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Srebrenica ruled a genocide

The killing of nearly 8,000 Muslim Bosniak men and boys was ruled a genocide by the chamber, the judges said on Wednesday. The killings are regarded as the worst atrocity to take place in Europe since the Holocaust.

Prosecutors accused Mladic and his political counterpart Radovan Karadzic of seeking to "permanently remove" Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from areas claimed by Bosnian Serbs through ethnic cleansing.

Ahead of the verdict, skirmishes were reported outside the court. As DW correspondent Catherine Martens was speaking with a member of the activist group Mothers of Srebrenica, a man approached with a Serbian flag.

"I can show my Serbian flag wherever I want," he said. The situation then turned violent and police had to step in.

Praise for 'momentous' ruling

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein hailed Mladic's conviction, calling it a "momentous victory for justice." In a statement, he said the former general is "the epitome of evil, and the prosecution of Mladic is the epitome of what international justice is all about."

The President of the Mothers of Srebrenica association said she was "partially satisfied" with the verdict.

"It's more than for Karadzic. But they didn't find him guilty for the accusation of genocide in some villages," said Munira Subasic.

Germany welcomed the verdict, with a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman calling it "an important" contribution toward processing crimes that occurred in former Yugoslavia.

The European Union called on countries in the Balkan region "to work towards reconciliation, regional cooperation and good neighborly relations."

"Delivering justice and fighting impunity for the most horrific crimes is a fundamental human obligation," an EU spokesperson said in a statement. 

'The Butcher of Bosnia' sentenced to life

Mladic denied the 11 charges against him that included genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity that were committed during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war that killed 100,000 people and displaced 2.2 million.

Other counts included murder, torture, rape, extermination, deportations and terrorism.

He was found guilty of commanding forces that committed the worst atrocities of the war, including the Srebrenica genocide as well as the deadly three-year siege on the Bosnian capital Sarajevo.


Joint burials

Around 500 people gathered for a collective funeral at a stadium in Prijedor in July, before burying the remains of their family members in local cemeteries. This time, the bodies of 23 people had been identified. The youngest victim was 18 and the oldest 72. The remains of three people from the village of Zecovi were also buried.


Helping others

"More than 20 years have passed and I am still waiting to bury my mother, my brothers and my sister. The longer I wait to find them, the harder it becomes for me and my family. The waiting is killing us," said Z.B. The remains of his neighbor were found in the nearby city of Prijedor. Z.B. also helped at the burial.


Everybody wants reconciliation

Z.B.'s phone rings day and night. "I am responsible for organizing the ceremony. The less time I have to think, the easier it is for me," he said. This year, representatives from different ethnic groups will attend the burial. "This is a large step for this city. This is what life together is about; this is the reconciliation that we all want."


Remembering the lost

His youngest son, who is 7 years old, visited the exhibition "Guilty of Nothing" by the painter Mensur Beslagic of Bosnia-Herzegovinia. To the left is a portrait of Z.B.'s cousin, who was only 6 when she was murdered.


The only survivor

Z.B. was the only one to survive the Zecovi Massacre on July 25, 1992. He was 14 years old when Serbian forces killed 29 women and children. Among them were his mother, two brothers, a sister and other relatives. His Serbian neighbor hid him for eight days. Later, he went to Germany with his father and a brother but returned in 2000.


Pictures as a reminder

The picture to the left shows his mother and sisters and the one to the right, his brothers. They are all still considered to be missing. "I got the picture from a friend in the village. Otherwise, I have nothing. That's all that's left - just this picture and the memories."


Difficulties identifying the dead

The remains of the 2,325 people who were murdered in the region were found in 450 different places. Often, the bodies of those murdered are found several kilometers away from the place they lived. This makes cross-border cooperation necessary for identification and prosecution purposes. The remains and personal belongings are kept in a mortuary in Sanski Most.


Very little left

Governments have also gotten involved in the exhumation process. Until recently, family members of victims, like Z.B., searched in desperation for the missing persons and went digging on their own.


Disrupted childhood

"When I go for walks here, I recall my brutal childhood that was disrupted by violence," said Z.B. at a lake near Prijedor.

The former general, who has been dubbed "The Butcher of Bosnia" but remains a hero to many in Serbia, is the highest military commander to be judged by the tribunal.

Mladic's defense lawyers previously slammed the trial as "political" and insisted their client is "not a monster." In the days leading up to Wednesday's verdict, the defense team filed several requests to have their client's health assessed.

The ICTY was set up in 1993 in The Hague to process major crimes committed during the Yugoslav wars.

rs/rt (AP, AFP, dpa)