Interview 16 Nov 17

Mladic Wanted to Use Trial to ‘Defend the Serbs’

After his arrest, Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic told his lawyers not to waste time defending him, but instead to defend the “Serb army and people”, defence team member Miodrag Stojanovic told BIRN.

Denis Dzidic BIRN Sarajevo
 
 Miodrag Stojanovic. Photo: BIRN.

Defence lawyer Miodrag Stojanovic told BIRN in an interview that Mladic said to him after his extradition to The Hague to stand trial for genocide and crimes against humanity in 2011 that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia had already decided that he would be convicted.

“He told us that a decision had been made long ago that he was guilty, and that our task was to defend the Serb army and people,” said Stojanovic.

Mladic was arrested in May 2011 after 16 years on the run. His verdict is scheduled for November 22.

Stojanovic recalls meeting Mladic for the first time in October 2011.

“It’s an interesting story how I came to work in this case. A colleague of mine called me to Banja Koviljaca [in Serbia] because some men wanted to meet me. I thought it was some thugs who were afraid to cross the Drina River – war criminals or criminals. That’s normal in my line of work,” said the lawyer.

“I came into Serbia and into the bar and I saw my colleague, I recognised Milos Saljiv and Darko Mladic. I knew right away what it was about,” he added.

After agreeing with Saljic, who was Mladic’s friend as well as a veteran judge, and the former Bosnian Serb Army chief’s son Darko Mladic, Stojanovic said a problem arose - Ratko Mladic refused to hire him.

“I was told that [Serbian Radical Party leader and war crimes defendant] Vojislav Seselj told Mladic that he should take another lawyer since I was a criminal and I defend criminals, I work for the prosecutors and sign plea deals and that Seselj was my professor and I was a bad student,” Stojanovic said, smiling.

“I asked for a meeting with Mladic. I told him Seselj lied. I did defend people in The Hague, but I did not sign plea deals. I do defend criminals - that’s true, that’s what I do. But thirdly, Seselj is just two years older than me, he did not teach me, and he was a professor in Sarajevo and I studied in Belgrade and was one of the best in my class,” he continued.

Mladic than told Stojanovic that Seselj’s idea was for Mladic to defend himself.

“Seselj told him: ‘General, you will be convicted either way. At least mess with them like I do.’ Seselj’s reasoning had a basis in his case. Mladic could not pull that off… So ten days later I was confirmed,” he said.

Stojanovic’s account of Seselj’s advice to Mladic could not be independently confirmed.

‘Eagle with a pigeon’s heart’

Mladic in court. Photo: ICTY.

Asked what he expected from Mladic’s verdict, Stojanovic responded: “Truth and justice.”

“I mean truth about unanswered questions from the war. The truth about whether genocide took place in the municipalities in 1992, the truth about Mladic’s role in Srebrenica [in 1995]. What the judges will say about the fact that Mladic was not even in the country between July 14 and 17 [1995], when the horrible crimes [against Bosniaks from Srebrenica] took place in the Zvornik municipality,” said Stojanovic.

Mladic is accused of genocide in Srebrenica in 1995 and six other municipalities in 1992, the persecution of Bosniaks and Croats throughout the country, terrorising the population of Sarajevo and taking UN peacekeepers hostage.

Stojanovic said he expects a just decision in relation to evidence which, he insisted, proves Mladic had no knowledge about the forcible transport of prisoners, deportations, crimes against humanity and killings of non-Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“We cannot deny the crimes, but we ask for and expect the truth - this is key,” he said.

Asked whether he believes that the fact that a mass grave was found in Tomasica near Prijedor during the trial will have any bearing on the finding of whether genocide took place in Prijedor in 1992, Stojanovic said it would not.

“I do not think that a single mass grave found in Prijedor will change the verdict, since it did not change the number of victims in the indictment,” he responded.

“The only thing that changed is that the bodies were found, and not all of them; we got information about 140 bodies. Whether this is a new fact which would prove that genocide took place in Prijedor, I do not believe so,” he added.

Asked how he viewed Mladic personally, Stojanovic replied that sees the former Bosnian Serb commander as a man with boundless energy.

“I will quote [Bosnian Serb] general Manojlo Milovanovic, who described Mladic in the courtroom. He said: ‘Mladic is a big eagle with a pigeon’s heart.’ I would add nothing to that,” he said.

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