Former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic, known as the ‘Butcher of Bosnia’, was sentenced to life imprisonment by the U.N. Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for war crimes during the Bosnian War of the 1990s.
74-year-old Mladic was charged with ten counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including mass rape, civilian terrorisation, and genocide in Srebrenica. He was found not guilty of a second count of genocide. Mladic was not present in court to hear his sentence, having been removed for heckling the judges. He said: “Everything said in this courtroom is a lie.” Mladic’s lawyer stated he will appeal his sentence.
The Bosnian War began in 1992, when Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and Croats voted for independence from Yugoslavia. When the referendum was boycotted and ignored by the Serbs, war broke out. Mladic was a prominent military figure on the Serb side of the war, overseeing key events such as the Siege of Sarajevo, the longest siege in modern warfare history, which lasted for three and a half years.
It led to the deaths of more than 10,000 people, due to shelling and sniper attacks, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Throughout the war, Mladic also pursued a campaign of ethnic cleansing, resulting in the murder of tens of thousands of Bosniaks. Most notorious was the Srebrenica massacre of July 1995, in which over 8000 Bosniak men and boys were slaughtered. Former General Secretary of the UN, Kofi Annan, described the Srebrenica massacre as the “worst crime on European soil since the Second World War”.
Following the end of the Bosnian War in 1995, Mladic went into hiding, evading capture for 16 years, until May 2011, when he was caught in Belgrade, and brought to The Hague, where his trial began in 2012. Many question why the International Criminal Court (ICC) took so long to bring Mladic to justice, and whilst some Bosnians relish the ICC’s judgement, others feel the verdict comes too late; Vladan Dini the editor of Svedok magazine in Belgrade, told The Guardian he worries that “the consequence of the verdict will only be felt by Serbia and not Mladi, who due to ill health and the fact that he was denied the right to be seen by his doctors, probably will not be around for much longer.”
Mladic’s trial was the last one to be heard before the ICTY, which is due to close in December. Fellow war criminal Slobodan Praljak killed himself yesterday, drinking poison in court, after The Hague upheld his conviction for genocide.