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Srebrenica massacre: UN court rejects Mladic genocide appeal

Former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic has lost his appeal against a 2017 conviction for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The UN court upheld the life sentence for his role in the killing of around 8,000 Bosnian Muslim (Bosniak) men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995.

The massacre, in an enclave supposed to be under UN protection, was the worst atrocity in Europe since World War Two.

It is not yet clear where Mladic will serve the rest of his sentence.

The five-person appeals panel found Mladic had failed to provide evidence to invalidate the previous convictions against him, although the presiding judge dissented on almost all counts.

However, the Appeals Chamber also dismissed the appeal brought by the prosecution, which had sought a second conviction against Mladic over crimes committed against Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats in some other areas during the war.

The verdict was delayed by technical difficulties, which continued throughout the session.

Mladic had denounced the tribunal during his appeal hearing in August, calling it a child of Western powers. His lawyers had argued he was far away from Srebrenica when the massacre happened.

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Mladic, known as the “Butcher of Bosnia”, was one of the last suspects to face trial at the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. He was arrested in 2011 after 16 years on the run.

In 2017 he was found guilty of genocide over Srebrenica, but acquitted of genocide over his army’s 1992 campaign, in which Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats were expelled from their homes or detained in appalling conditions.

Radovan Karadzic (R) and his general Ratko Mladic
Mladic (L) was a general under Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic (1995 pic)

In 2016, the same court convicted former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic of planning the Srebrenica massacre, among other crimes.

His initial 40-year sentence for genocide and war crimes was later increased to life in prison in 2019 – the remainder of which he will serve in the UK.

What has the reaction been?

Survivor Semso Osmanovic, who lost 23 family members in the massacre, told the BBC’s Guy De Launey that the verdict meant he finally felt able to return to his home town.

“I was living the whole of my life for this moment – to see justice being done by the international court. And hoping to bring my children and my wife to Srebrenica,” he said. “That’s the place I was born.”

Sehida Abdurahmanovic, whose husband was killed in Srebrenica, watched the verdict at a memorial centre in Potocari.

“Mothers who barely hear, who can not see, those sick and can hardly walk, came to see this. As it was yesterday, everything is still fresh,” she told BBC News Serbian.

“It is of utmost importance that he got this life sentence and that genocide in Srebrenica was confirmed.”

In Sarajevo, one Bosnian newspaper led its online coverage of the verdict with the headline: “Look at the butcher’s tears when he realises that he will die behind bars.”

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But the reaction among Mladic’s supporters was very different.

The former general’s son, Darko Mladic, said his father “did not have a chance for a fair trial” and described the proceedings as “a travelling circus”.

The current president of the Bosnian Serb enclave, Zeljka Cvijanovic, said the tribunal had “once again confirmed its role as anti-Serb court, which establishes responsibility for war crimes not by evidence, but by the ethnicity of the indicted”.

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Long wait for justice

Analysis box by Anna Holligan, Hague correspondent

“He has blood on his hands,” Munira Subasic told me when I visited her home, a short walk away from the killing fields of Srebrenica.

Ratko Mladic was the enforcer of a political plot, engineered at the top, to make sections of Bosnia’s Muslim population disappear.

The ethnic cleansing began with persecution – propaganda turned neighbours against one another – and for many thousands it ended when Ratko Mladic’s men overran the UN base at Potocari, a designated safe zone.

It was here that Munira’s 17-year old son Nermin was torn from her arms, as he tried to reassure her everything would be fine. Twenty-two members of her family perished in the genocide.

www.bbc.co.uk

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