Ratko Mladic, the former commander of the Bosnian Serb army, was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced to life in prison by the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
The court cited Mladic’s crimes as some of the most heinous in human history.
Mladic, now 75, was found guilty of ten of eleven counts for crimes including atrocities against Bosnians during the three year siege of the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo and the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the eastern enclave of Srebrenica, this is considered as Europe’s worst mass killing since the Second World War.
The sentencing was read out in a dramatic fashion at the Hague as the Presiding Judge Alphons Orie read out the counts and sentence over angry outbursts from Mladic.
Mladic’s lawyers said they plan to appeal the sentencing.
Mladic,’s sentencing is the final trial in the tribunal that was set up in 1993. The tribunal will close its doors by the end of the year.
Other perpetrators of war crimes in Bosnia, including Radovan Karadzic, are serving lengthy sentences in prison. However, the former president of Yugoslavia, and believed to be the instigator of the Balkan war, Slobodan Milosevic died in his cell in 2006 before judges could reach a verdict.
The decision has received mixed reactions from the people of former Yugoslavia, some were elated, some believed enough hadn’t been done and others see Mladic as a hero.
In response to these varying reactions, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia said the following in a statement Wednesday:
“Some today will claim that this judgment is a verdict against the Serbian people. My Office rejects that claim in the strongest terms. Mladić’s guilt is his, and his alone.
“Others will say that Mladić is a hero and was defending his people. This judgment demonstrates that nothing could be further from the truth. Mladić will be remembered by history for the many communities and lives he destroyed.
“The true heroes are the victims and survivors who never gave up on their quest for justice. They displayed real courage by coming to the Tribunal, to tell the truth, and confront the men who wronged them. On behalf of my Office, I would like to thank and recognize them.”
Wednesday’s decision was also welcomed by human rights groups and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, hailed the conviction.
“Mladic presided over some of the darkest crimes to occur in Europe since World War II, bringing terror, death and destruction to thousands of victims, and sorrow, tragedy, and trauma to countless more. His conviction is a testament to the courage and determination of those victims and witnesses who never gave up hope that they would see him brought to justice,” said Al Hussein in a statement, who served in the UN Protection Force in the former Yugoslavia from 1994 to 1996.
Al Hussein referred to Mladic as “the epitome of evil,” and has stated that the verdict is a warning for future perpetrators.
“Today’s verdict is a warning to the perpetrators of such crimes that they will not escape justice, no matter how powerful they may be nor how long it may take. They will be held accountable,” the UN High Commissioner added.
The conflict in the former Yugoslavia began in the early 1990s after the breakup of the country. More than 100,000 people died and millions lost their homes, with some of the worst crimes taking place in Bosnia. A peace agreement was signed in 1995.
Mladic went into hiding for close to ten years before he was arrested in 2011.
Thousands of Canadian Armed Forces members served in this region in the early 1990s to the 2000s.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the first major United Nations peacekeeping mission in Balkans. Twenty-three Canadians lost their lives while serving In the former Yugoslavia.