Former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic sits in the court room in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, June 8, 2021, where the United Nations court delivers its verdict in the appeal of Mladic against his convictions for genocide and other crimes and his life sentence for masterminding atrocities throughout the Bosnian war. | AP
The ruling means the 79-year-old former general who terrorized Bosnia throughout the war will spend the rest of his life in prison.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — U.N. appeals judges on Tuesday upheld the conviction of former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic for genocide and other offenses during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war and confirmed his life sentence.
The ruling means the 79-year-old former general who terrorized Bosnia throughout the war will spend the rest of his life in prison. He is the last major figure from the conflict that ended more than a quarter century ago to face justice.
Presiding Judge Prisca Matimba Nyambe of Zambia said the court dismissed Mladic’s appeal “in its entirety” and affirmed his life sentence. It also rejected an appeal by prosecutors of Mladic’s acquittal on one other count of genocide linked to ethnic purges early in the war.
Mladic joins his former political master, ex-Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic, in serving a life sentence for masterminding ethnic bloodshed in the Bosnian war that left more than 100,000 dead and millions homeless.
Once a swaggering military strongman known as the “Butcher of Bosnia,” Mladic appeared upbeat as he entered the courtroom, mimicking photographers as he sat down. But he scowled as the judgment was read and showed no emotion when he heard his appeal had been rejected in its entirety.
Mladic commanded troops responsible for atrocities ranging from “ethnic cleansing” campaigns to the siege of Sarajevo and the war’s bloody climax in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. Now, he is a frail elderly man whose ill health delayed this final judgment.
His toxic legacy continues to divide Bosnia and his dark shadow has spread far beyond the Balkans.
To Serbs in Bosnia, he is a war hero who fought to protect his people.
“I cannot accept any verdict,” Serb war veteran Milije Radovic from the eastern Bosnian town of Foca told The Associated Press. “For me, he is an icon. And for the Serb people, he is an icon.”
To Bosniaks, mostly Muslims, he will always be a villain responsible for their wartime suffering and losses.
Mladic was first indicted in July 1995. After the war in Bosnia ended, he went into hiding and was finally arrested in 2011 and handed over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia by the then-ruling pro-Western government of Serbia.
The judgement was welcomed as “an important affirmation of the rule of law” by Kathryne Bomberger, director-general of the International Commission on Missing Persons that helped to locate victims of atrocities in Bosnia.
“An important chapter in the history of international justice and the history of the Western Balkans conflict closed today,” Bomberger said. “Ramifications of the judgement in case of Mladic and in previous cases, such as that of Radovan Karadzic, go beyond the Western Balkans. This gives hope to survivors of atrocity, including families of the missing and disappeared persons around the world, that justice can be delivered.”
U.S. President Joe Biden said the “historic judgment shows that those who commit horrific crimes will be held accountable. It also reinforces our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world.”
“My thoughts today are with all the surviving families of the many victims of Mladic’s atrocities. We can never erase the tragedy of their deaths, but I hope today’s judgment provides some solace to all those who are grieving,” a statement from Biden said.
Amnesty International’s Europe Director Nils Muižniek said the verdict “sends a powerful message around the world that impunity cannot, and will not, be tolerated.”
“Whilst this sentence will bring some closure to the surviving victims and their relatives, the physical and psychological scars will remain,” he said. “It is important to remember that thousands of cases of enforced disappearances remain unresolved, and many thousands of victims and their families continue to be denied access to justice, truth and reparation.”
The shadow of Mladic and Karadzic spreads far beyond the Balkans. They have also been revered by foreign far-right supporters for their bloody wartime campaigns.
The Australian who shot dead dozens of Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019 was believed to be inspired by the wartime Bosnian Serb leaders, as was Anders Breivik, the Norwegian white supremacist who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011.
The U.N. tribunal has since shut its doors. Mladic’s appeal and other legal issues left over from the tribunal were being dealt with by the U.N.’s International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, which is housed in the same building as the now-defunct court for the former Yugoslavia.
Associated Press writer Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, and videographer Aleksandar Furtula in The Hague contributed.