As forecast earlier this week, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia delivered the long-awaited guilty verdict to the infamous “Butcher of Bosnia”, Ratko Mladić. As the dust of yesterday’s judgment begins to settle, a comprehensive analysis of the Court’s findings is an essential component of beginning to understand its implications on the lives of victims and the future of international human rights law.
For his involvement in the worst crimes committed on European soil since the Second World War, Mladić was indicted on three crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court: genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war. The accused, both as an individual and as a member of four joint criminal enterprises, was tried on charges that spanned the nation, including Srebrenica, Sarajevo and fifteen municipalities. The first two Counts of genocide, under Articles 4(3)(a), 7(1), and 7(3), proved to create the most difficulty in reaching a consensus. The Judges faced with the task of determining culpability included Judge Christoph Flügge, Judge Alphons Orie and Judge Bakone Justice Moloto. The German, Dutch and South African judges, respectively, found Mladić not guilty on the first Count of genocide in six Bosnian municipalities. The Judges agreed that the atrocious crimes encompassed within this component of the case constituted a variety of other grievous crimes under international law and set the stage for a potential appeal, or at the very least, future indictments of criminals documented to have committed violations in the remaining municipalities, many of whom continue to serve in official capacities. It was only under the second Count that the accused was found guilty of genocide, for his personal role and involvement in the joint strategic attempt to intentionally eliminate Bosnian Muslims from Srebrenica.
Allegations categorized as crimes against humanity, under Articles 5(h), 7(1) and 7(3), were the next to be referenced in the Chamber’s summary. These were comprised of a number of inhumane acts including persecution, extermination, murder, deportation and forcible transfer, outlined in Counts 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8. Notable examples, while each act certainly carries the weight of the world for each individual victim, included the brutal rapes and mass executions committed in the Manjača, Keraterm, and Omarska concentration camps. All five of the aforementioned Counts, encompassing thousands of individual offenses, concluded with guilty verdicts.
At this point in the proceedings, the accused stood and began to shout, leading to his forcible removal from the courtroom. Quickly following the outburst, Judge Orie diligently continued reading the remainder of the summary of the judgment and the final verdict.
The final set of accusations, under Articles 3, 7(1) and 7(3) of the Statute and Article 3(1)(a) of the Geneva Conventions, entailed the violation of the laws or customs of war. Counts 6, 9, 10 and 11 included the crimes of murder, terror, unlawful acts on civilians and the taking of hostages. Although these violations were far-reaching and encompassed a variety of offenses, the Chamber explicitly noted acts committed by Mladić and his JCE collaborators during the siege of Sarajevo, including the sniping and shelling of civilians and severe restriction placed on the delivery of humanitarian aid. As was the case with the crimes against humanity, Mladić was found guilty by the Chamber on all charged violations of the laws or customs of war.
The summation of these guilty verdicts, for ten Counts of the worst crimes under international law, led to the only appropriate sentence: life imprisonment.
If the sentiments of his supporters and prior statements by the defence team led by Branko Lukić and supported by Dan Ivetić and Miodrag Stojanović, are any indication, it is to be expected that an appeal will quickly follow this landmark judgment. Should this be the case, as the ICTY closes its doors, the appeal would likely join the fate of those filed in both the Karadžić and Šešelj cases, falling under the jurisdiction of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals.
While the judgment will not fill the void left by the deceased, nor will it discover the remains of loved ones that have yet to be laid to rest, it has the ability to provide a sense of assurance to survivors and the 592 witnesses that their countless hours of depositions and exposure of their deep wounds were validated. Their essential work must continue as the remaining components of the open cases transition to the MICT and as future proceedings are held within the domestic court system, in hopes of strengthening the rule of law and rebuilding a multi-ethnic Bosnia. Reaching far beyond the nation’s contested borders, their efforts, accompanied by these advancements in international human rights law, set the stage for future prosecution of war criminals around the globe, including current ongoing violations in Syria and Myanmar.
At a time when the world is forced to question the morality of leaders, considering recent declarations of the continued support of criminals and accused sexual abusers, this form of positive precedent in the legal sphere serves as a beacon of hope. Regarding Mladić, as he is stripped of the glorified titles of General and Commander, the genocide perpetrator will eternally carry the only appropriate label: war criminal.