War crimes judges on Tuesday upheld the genocide conviction of former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic over the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, Europe’s worst act of bloodshed since World War II.
The UN tribunal in The Hague rejected Mladic’s appeal against his 2017 life sentence for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity over the 1992-5 Bosnian war.
Dubbed the “Butcher of Bosnia”, the once burly general who is now in his late 70s sat impassively and listened to the judgement through headphones as it was read out by presiding judge Prisca Nyambe.
“The appeals chamber affirmed the sentence of life imprisonment imposed on Mr Mladic by the trial chamber,” the tribunal in The Hague said in a statement.
The verdict by five judges at the UN International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals — which deals with cases from the now-closed Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal — is final and cannot be appealed any further.
Mothers of some of the 8,000 mostly Muslim men and boys killed in cold blood when Bosnian Serb troops overran Srebrenica were outside the court where they have long campaigned for justice.
“Today is a historic day, not only for us mothers, but also for the whole Balkans, Europe and the world,” Munira Subasic, president of one of the “Mothers of Srebrenica” associations, told AFP outside court.
“He’s a monster who did not repent for what he has done, even after 26 years. Wherever their army came, wherever their boot stepped in, they committed genocide,” she added.
– ‘I have come to cry’ –
At the genocide memorial near Srebrenica, a giant screen broadcast witness testimony ahead of the verdict, near the lines of white headstones where the bodies of some 6,600 identified victims are laid to rest.
“Instead of rejoicing with grandchildren, I have come to cry here,” said Munevera Kabeljic, 69, resting on the graves of her husband and her sons aged 17 and 20, neither of whom were married.
Kabeljic hit out at members of the Serbian community in Bosnia who have denied that any massacre took place.
“What hurts is the most is that they deny genocide,” she added.
“They say it didn’t happen, but these tombstones prove it. They didn’t come to sleep here, they were killed.”
Mladic was the military face of a brutal trio led on the political side by ex-Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic.
Captured in 2011 after a decade on the run, Mladic was found guilty in 2017 of genocide for personally overseeing the massacre at the supposedly UN-protected enclave of Srebrenica.
Footage from the time showed him handing out sweets to children before they and the women of Srebrenica were taken away by bus, while the men of the town were marched into a forest and executed.
– ‘Target of NATO’ –
Mladic was also found guilty of orchestrating a wider campaign of “ethnic cleansing” to drive Muslims and Bosnians out of key areas to create a Greater Serbia as Yugoslavia tore itself apart after the fall of communism.
The war left around 100,000 people dead and 2.2 million displaced.
Mladic, who gives his age as 78 but it is 79 according to the court, insisted throughout the trial and appeal process that he was guilty of genocide or war crimes.
In one of a series of tirades to the court, he painted himself last August as a “target of the NATO alliance” and derided the court as a “child of western powers”.
His lawyers argued that he was far from the scene at the time of the actual killings in Srebrenica, and that he could not be held responsible for the crimes of his subordinates.
The appeal hearing was delayed repeatedly after Mladic needed surgery to remove a polyp, and then because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Access to the court on Tuesday was also limited because of coronavirus measures.