Analysis 15 May 12

World Awaits Start of Srebrenica Butcher’s Trial

The trial is about to start in the Hague of perhaps the most infamous character from the Bosnian war – Ratko Mladic, the man charged with the slaughter of thousands of people in Srebrenica.

Marija Tausan

The last trial before the Hague Tribunal begins on Wednesday, May 16, when the prosecution presents its opening statement at the trial of Ratko Mladic.

The former commander of the Army of Republika Srpska, VRS, is indicted for genocide and other grave crimes during the 1992-5 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

While many associations of war victims feel the trial should have started long ago, the defence has expressed reluctance about the start date because of the comprehensive nature of the charges and evidence.

To start the trial as soon as possible, the prosecution originally suggested that Mladic should be tried in two separate proceedings, the first for the 1995 massacre of about 8,000 Bosniaks [Muslims] in Srebrenica and then another for the other charges.

The Trial Chamber rejected this proposal, stating that it could violate the rights of the defence. But to speed up the proceedings, the Chamber instructed the prosecution to shorten the indictment.

As a result, the fourth changed indictment has cut the number of alleged crimes from 196 to 106.

After 16 years in hiding, Serbian police arrested Mladic on May 26, 2011, in the village of Lazarevo near Zrenjanin, north of Belgrade.

Mladic has called the charges monstrous. At previous appearances before the Trial Chamber, he complained of being sick and old and also expressed dissatisfaction with the way he was being handled by the Court Police.

He also stressed that he would not be defending himself at this trial, but the Serbian people and country. “I am General Ratko Mladic and the whole world knows who I am,” he told at one status conference.

“I do not know how long I’ll last; only the one above knows that. But I want to live and experience freedom. I am defending my country and its people, not Ratko Mladic,” he said.

Over 400 prosecution witnesses:

The first part of the evidentiary proceedings will relate to the general review of the case.

Then the evidence regarding crimes in Sarajevo, the taking of international soldiers as hostages, persecution of the non-Serb population in 15 municipalities and the 1995 genocide in Srebrenica, will be presented.

The prosecution intends to call 410 witnesses of whom 158 should appear in court. Close to 28,000 pieces of material evidence will be produced.

The first witnesses will be survivors of Bosnian Serb mass executions. The testimony of Elvedin Pasic, who in November 1992 survived the execution of about 150 persons in the village of Grabovica in the municipality of Kotor Varos has been announced.

Two protected witnesses will also testify regarding the slaughter of 150 persons in Biljani and about 100 civilians in Velagici, in the municipality of Kljuc.

The court will also hear the testimony of Fejzija Hadzic regarding the massacre in Jelasicko Polje near Kalinovnik, as well as from Rajif Begic regarding the murder in Vrpolje in the municipality of Sanski Most. Another protected witness will speak about the executions at Branjevo in the municipality of Zvornik.

In the section of the trial in which the prosecution presents a general overview of the crimes from the indictment, representatives of international organizations and the media will also be invited to speak.

‘Trial should have started long ago’:

Geert Jan Knops, a Dutch professor of law, describes Mladic as “a typical general, as can be seen from his behaviour in the courtroom.

“This is not a problem as long as his comments can be transformed into effective and proper legal arguments,” said Knops.

Munira Subasic, president of the Association of Mothers from the enclaves Srebrenica and Zepa, which Mladic’s forces overran in 1995, said it was difficult to talk about the general who she met in Potocari in July 1995, when she was forced to leave her home.

“In 1995, he was acting like a hero when he was facing innocent victims, he was general, and in the courtroom he is acting as he is if not feeling good, acting illness. I think that this is a big difference,” says Subasic.

She believes that, unlike his victims in Srebrenica and elsewhere, Mladic has all the rights he needs at his trial.

She also believes that the trial should have begun long ago, so as to avoid a situation like that of Slobodan Milosevic, the former president of Serbia.

Charged with grave crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo he died during the course of his Hague trial in 2006.

“The verdict should have been pronounced by now,” she said. “A trial concerning Srebrenica could have been completed already, because there are so many verdicts, evidence and witnesses,” she said.

“Had that been already completed, work on [the crimes committed in] Zvornik, Foca, Vlasenica, Visegrad, Prijedor, Sarajevo could have started,” Subasic added.

Mladic’s psychology:

At the status conferences, Mladic claimed he was seriously ill and complained that he was not allowed to wear a cap in court although “the ventilator blows around my head”.

He expressed doubts about whether he would have a fair trial and reacted violently when reminded of media reports that he had distributed sweets to children in Potocari, just before the Srebrenica massacre, and then taken them back when the television cameras went off.

“Psychologically this [reaction] is interesting because it is nothing for him to kill,” Professor Ismet Dizdarevic said.

“According to him Bosniaks should be annihilated and that is justified, but according to him, it is not OK to snatch [candy] from children!”

In his view, Mladic’s behaviour suggests that he is unable to admit what he did in Bosnia and instead attributes to himself the role of a hero and fearless leader.

Hasan Nuhanovic, who lost his father and brother in Srebrenica, says little importance should be directed to what Mladic says and does now in court. What counts were his previous actions in the war.

“When the trial starts, attention should be directed toward what he did as a commander of the VRS - what the VRS did and not only him personally,” he said.

“More attention should be paid to the victims and to the evidence. That it is the most important thing, the evidence of the crimes,” Nuhanovic added.  

Defence unhappy with timing:

Meanwhile, Mladic’s defence remains unhappy with what they see as the court’s undue haste to start the trial.

Branko Lukic is Mladic’s chief counsel while Miodrag Stojanovic, lawyer from Bijeljina, is another member of the Defence team. 

Previously, Stojanovic told BIRN Justice Report that the speed with which the Court wished to begin the trial was incomprehensible.

“If we compare this with the practice of The Hague Tribunal in the case of [the indicted former Croatian Serb leader] Goran Hadzic - because it is the most recent situation - it has been announced that his trial will not begin until November 2012,” he said.

“And Hadzic’s indictment is not to be compared [in terms of complexity] with that of Mladic,” Stojanovic added.

Shortening the indictment will not substantially reduce the workload of the defence, he thinks.

The Trial Chamber is presided over by Dutch judge Alphons Orie, while Balkone Justice Moloto from South Africa and Christoph Fligge from Germany are also members of the Chamber.

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In July 1995 Srebrenica was shelled and occupied by the Army of Republic of Srpska,VRS, despite being declared a protected area by the United Nations. More than 7,000 people were killed, the victims of genocide.

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The Bosnian Serb commander’s role in the genocide committed in Srebrenica is described in detail in many indictments and verdicts pronounced before local and international judicial institutions.

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