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Twenty-six years after the Srebrenica massacre – in which Bosnian Serb troops slaughtered over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims – the judges in The Hague are preparing to pronounce a final sentence against Ratko Mladic, former Bosnian Serb military leader known as “the butcher of Bosnia “. In the afternoon, the last act of the appeal process establishes whether Mladic – already sentenced in the first degree to life imprisonment for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity – will have to serve a life sentence.
In 2017, the former military leader, now 78, was sentenced to life in prison for the Srebrenica genocide – the worst massacre on European soil since World War II, perpetrated before the eyes of Dutch soldiers of the UN mission – and for other crimes committed. during the war in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995, including persecution and extermination. Under his leadership the siege of Sarajevo was consummated – the longest in the war history of the late 20th century. Out of 11 counts, the judges found him guilty of 10, acquitting him of a second charge of genocide linked to a campaign to expel non-Serbs from several cities at the start of the war; the prosecutors challenged the acquittal. Former Mladic political leader Radovan Karadzic was also convicted of the same crimes and is serving a life sentence.
“Mladic is feeling well and is ready to appear in court today at the Hague Tribunal,” said Darko Mladic, the former general’s son, who this morning in the Dutch city was able to speak with his father, whose health conditions are precarious for years.
The widows and mothers of the victims will also be listening to the verdict in the courtroom. The jury – made up of five judges – is led by the president of Zambia, Prisca Matimba Nyambe. The ruling in the Mladic appeals process will close nearly all UN proceedings for crimes committed in a war that killed more than 100,000 people and left millions displaced.
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In Bosnia-Herzegovina there is great anticipation for the sentence. Everyone in the Croatian-Muslim Federation, starting with the relatives of the victims, expects the verdict to confirm the life sentence for the former general, the “executioner of Srebrenica”. And at the same time there remains the bitterness that it took 26 years for, at least in his case, justice to be done.
The hope of many is that the former military leader will be found guilty of genocide – as well as in Srebrenica – in six other municipalities in Bosnia – Foca, Vlasenica, Kljuc, Sanski Most, Kotor-Varos and Prijedor. “Everything that falls within the concept of genocide – commented Halida Konjo-Uzunovic, president of the Foca 92-95 association – was also committed in Foca, or Prijedor, and in other cities: systematic rapes, proven thanks to the testimonies of 16 courageous women, concentration camps, persecutions, the destruction of 17 mosques in Foca and the cancellation of all traces of the existence of the Bosniaks in this city ”. For this reason, Konjo-Uzunovic said, “we expect the judges of The Hague to tell the whole world that the genocide was perpetrated, as well as in Srebrenica, also in other cities: only in this way can we prevent the evil from happening again. which is preparing with the glorification of war criminals and the design of their murals in different cities ”, while the problem of the denial of war crimes, in particular the Srebrenica genocide, grows more and more.
The positions in the Republika Srpska, the Bosnian entity with a Serb majority, are different in tenor, where, like Serbia, many continue to consider Mladic a hero, unjustly condemned. Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik said on the eve that the Hague tribunal is no place of justice, and his sentences have not pacified the peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Mladic was first indicted in July 1995. After the Bosnian war ended, he went into hiding and was eventually arrested in 2011 and handed over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia by the then pro-Western government of Serbia. . The UN court has since closed its doors. Mladic’s appeal and other legal issues left by the court were dealt with by the United Nations Residual International Mechanism for Criminal Courts, which is housed in the same building as the now defunct court for the former Yugoslavia.
Mladic denounced the court, calling him a son of Western powers. His lawyers claimed he was far from Srebrenica when the massacre took place. The verdict comes after 25 years of trials at the United Nations ad hoc tribunal for war crimes for the former Yugoslavia which has sentenced about ninety people.
UN prosecutor Serge Brammertz stressed the importance of the sentence for victims who live daily with the trauma of the conflict of the 1990s. “If you talk to the survivors, the mothers (from Srebrenica) who have lost their husbands, their children, all this is evident: their lives really stopped on the day of the genocide,” he told reporters before the verdict.