News 15 Dec 16

Ratko Mladic’s Trial Hears Final Statements

Defence and prosecution lawyers made their final comments in the trial of the former Bosnian Serb military commander for genocide and other wartime crimes and judges adjourned to start considering their verdict.

Radosa Milutinovic
Ratko Mladic and his defence lawyer Dejan Ivetic in court this week.

The defence and prosecution in Ratko Mladic’s trial made their final comments at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague on Thursday before the three judges adjourned proceedings to begin considering the verdict in the case, which is due in November next year.

Thursday’s court session saw both sides attempt to refute each other’s closing arguments in the four-year trial of the 74-year-old former Bosnian Serb Army general.

The defence again called on the Hague Tribunal judges to acquit Mladic on all 11 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, rejecting the prosecutors’ claims to have proven his guilt.

The prosecution meanwhile argued that the defence’s arguments were based on inaccurate and delusionary interpretations of the facts and disregard for the evidence. It has called for a life sentence for Mladic.

Mladic is accused of the genocide of Bosniaks from Srebrenica in 1995, the persecution of Bosniaks and Croats throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, which allegedly reached the scale of genocide in six other municipalities in 1992, terrorising the population of Sarajevo during the 44-month siege of the Bosnian capital, and taking UN peacekeepers hostage.

Prosecution: Mladic’s Defence ‘Distorts Reality’

“The evidence points to Mladic’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt,” prosecutor Alan Tieger told the court as the prosecution mounted its rebuttal of the defence’s closing arguments.

Tieger said that the defence’s arguments were based on inaccurate and delusionary interpretations of the facts and disregard for the evidence.

“Mladic was not a superman, as the defence says we suggest, but just a man who had enough strength to go through Bosnia as if through cheese, and used those powers to commit crimes and destroy the community,” he told the UN war crimes tribunal.

Tieger rejected the defence allegation that Mladic was on trial “only because he is a Serb.

He insisted that Mladic’s defence also tried to lay the blame on former Bosnian Serb president and supreme commander of the Bosnian Serb Army, Radovan Karadzic.

In fact, Karadzic and Mladic were “the key partners in all four joint criminal enterprises [listed in the indictment]”, he argued.

“Jointly they worked on a strategic goal to separate Serbs from Muslims and Croats and agreed it was a historical chance to create a Serb state with as few internal enemies as possible and the instruments for achieving that,” he said.

He reminded the tribunal of testimony by defence witness Luka Dragicevic, a Bosnian Serb Army officer, who said Serbs were “stronger, better, prettier and smarter than Muslims”.

In order to prove that the Bosnian Serb Army, which was under Mladic’s command, ethnically cleansed municipalities throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, the prosecutor quoted Mladic, who once said “there are no Muslims in Bratunac” and that “it was a completely Serb town”.

As a proof of Mladic’s “genocidal intention” to destroy Muslims in Srebrenica, the prosecutor quoted his statement that “the time has come for us to take revenge on Turks [a pejorative term for Bosniaks] in this region”.

He also rejected the defence lawyers’ attempt to lay the blame for the persecution in the six Bosnian municipalities and in detention camps in 1992 on the Bosnian Serb police.

He repeated that the Bosnian Serb and police “jointly held the detention camps and implemented ethnic cleansing”.

Tieger said the defence’s allegation that the Bosnian Army shot at its own people in Sarajevo in order to blame the Serbs as “an insinuation which distorted reality”.

He rejected defence claims that this was confirmed by UN peacekeeping force UNPROFOR’s commander Michael Rose.

“Rose said he knew of such allegations in the media, but not that those allegations were based in truth,” Tieger said.

Tieger also denied the defence’s allegation that Bosnian Serb forces only “legitimately responded to fire” that came from the city.

“On the contrary, the entire city was targeted by the vicious shelling and sniping,” he said.

Responding to the defence’s thesis that there was no written order issued by Mladic to kill all the Bosniak captives from Srebrenica in July 1995, the prosecutor argued out that, according to the evidence, Mladic gave the order “orally”.

He rejected the defence’s allegations that women, children and the elderly were not deported from Srebrenica, but were “relocated in good faith”.

He quoted a Dutch UNPROFOR officer, who said the population of Srebrenica were offered a choice between “slow death” and leaving.

Defence: UN Prosecutors Misinterpret the Facts

“In all aspects of this case, the prosecutors have not managed to prove General Mladic’s criminal responsibility,” Mladic’s defence lawyer Dragan Ivetic told the court on Thursday as he delivered his rebuttal of the prosecution’s closing arguments in the trial.

Ivetic denied the prosecution’s allegation that Mladic and his supreme commander, Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic, were the key partners in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at creating a new Serb state by conducting a permanent and forced removal of Bosniaks and Croats from large parts of territory.

“How could this have been possible, knowing [Mladic and Karadzic’s] relations were not that good sometimes… How could they have collaborated in a joint criminal enterprise, knowing they did not share the same stances?” Ivetic asked.

Commenting on the fact that the prosecution included Mladic’s order to “clean the Podrinje area [a large area of eastern Bosnia]” as evidence for the persecution of non-Serbs, the defence lawyer said the order referred to “a legitimate military operation consisting of cleaning up the area, to which the prosecutors attached a malicious meaning”.

“One must make a difference between the use of that term in military documents and forcible relocation [of non-Serbs],” Ivetic said.

Regarding the prosecutor’s allegations that Mladic and his army could go through Bosnia as if cutting “through cheese”, the defence lawyer argued that Bosnian Serbs forces’ actions were defensive, not aggressive.

“Mladic and his army could have cut through Bosnia, but he did not do it. He defended himself from attacks by the Bosnian Army instead,” Ivetic said.

Ivetic said Sarajevo was “a striking practical example of a defended city, which became a legitimate target, because [the Bosnian Army] placed its capacities among civilians, whom it used as human shields”.

On the other hand, the Bosnian Serb Army “carefully selected its targets [in Sarajevo] in order not to bring civilians into danger”, he insisted.

Responding to accusations that the Bosnian Serb Army destroyed mosques in the town of Foca, Ivetic quoted witnesses who said the religious buildings were used for military purposes.

“When there is an alternative explanation of a certain event, you must rule in favour of the defendant,” he said.

Speaking about the accusations that Mladic was responsible for the genocide of Bosniaks from Srebrenica in July 1995, Ivetic said the prosecutors “do not know the timing of a meeting” between Mladic and his associates, at which, as they claimed, a decision was made to kill Bosniak captives.

“The prosecutors admit there had not been a joint criminal enterprise aimed at killing people prior to that meeting. How could you prove something beyond reasonable doubt, when the prosecution says it does not know?” Ivetic asked.

The defence sought to disassociate Mladic from an order issued in September 1995, under which he approved the use of five tons of fuel for engineering works in the Zvornik area - which the prosecution claimed was actually used to relocate mass graves with the intention of hisingde the crimes committed in Srebrenica.

Denying that Mladic knew what the document contained, Ivetic argued that “others could use his signature even if he did was not even aware of the content”.

Mladic’s defence once again accused Bosnian wartime President Alija Izetbegovic of being responsible for the outbreak of the war, saying that he “called for jihad” against Serbs.

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