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Ratko Mladic to address judges directly in Srebrenica appeal

An aerial view of the Memorial Center in Potocari near Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 6 July 2020Image copyright
Reuters

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More than 6,500 victims are buried at the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial

Former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic is due to address judges in The Hague as part of an appeal against his conviction for genocide and crimes against humanity.

He was jailed for life in 2017 for his part in the massacre at Srebrenica in 1995 when about 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed.

Mladic’s lawyers have argued he was far away from the town when it happened.

The second and final day of the hearing opened on Wednesday.

It is taking place at a UN court which is considering appeals and remaining cases from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which ended in 2017.

Mladic’s health problems and coronavirus restrictions delayed proceedings earlier.

Meanwhile, the prosecution is urging judges to convict Mladic on a further genocide charge.

The Srebrenica massacre was the worst atrocity in Europe since World War Two.

What has the court heard on the final day?

Mladic, 78, entered the courtroom wearing a disposable face covering and sat down behind a Perspex screen.

Three of the four appeals judges are participating remotely via video link due to coronavirus-related restrictions.

Prosecution lawyer Laurel Baig said Mladic had been convicted of some of “the most heinous crimes of the 20th Century”.

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Mladic is to speak on Wednesday

“Mladic was in charge of the Srebrenica operation, Srebrenica was Mladic’s operation,” she said, as quoted by AFP news agency.

“And the chamber was right to conclude that he was responsible for these crimes. He used the forces under his command to execute thousands of men and boys.”

The convict complained that the hour-long breaks between sessions – to allow for the courtroom to be ventilated and cleaned – were too long for him to spend in a small isolation room and the judges responded by reducing them to 40 minutes.

Ratko Mladic is watching from behind a three-sided transparent screen.

The prosecutor described how his forces had ethnically cleansed Srebrenica: “Their goal, to make the enclave disappear, to empty it, to make it Serb territory…” And how, on 11 July, after tens of thousands of Muslims had fled for their lives, Mladic conducted a victory walk through the town, calling it Serb Srebrenica and announcing: “Now the time has come to take revenge on the Turks.”

An estimated 8,000 mostly Muslim men and boys were separated from their terrified families, loaded on to trucks, taken to fields, dams and warehouses, and executed, by gunfire or grenade. Their bodies were thrown into holes or mass graves, then some dug up, moved by heavy machinery and reburied elsewhere in an effort to hide the slaughter.

I met one of the survivors a few years ago inside one of the warehouses in Srebrenica. He described standing among rows and rows of men, asked to come forward line by line. As the row ahead of them fell in front of firing squads, he survived by hiding under a pile of bodies and pretending to be dead until Mladic’s men had gone.

Every now and then the former military general catches a glimpse of himself on the screen in front of him in court, he smiles, rubs his wedding ring or fixes his hair but otherwise appears to show no response to the catalogue of crimes he stands accused of committing.

How did the first day pass?

On Tuesday, Mladic’s lawyers told the UN court that the proceedings should not go ahead until a medical team had reviewed his capacity to take part.

They argued he had been wrongly convicted of “unscheduled incidents” made as accusations during his trial.

Originally convicted on 10 counts, prosecutors say he should also be found guilty of genocide against Bosniaks and Croats in 1992.

The trial appeared to be affected by technical issues.

Presiding Judge Prisca Matimba Nyambe, who was among the judges following proceedings by video link, said at one point she was unable to decipher the defence lawyer’s words and would have to rely on transcripts.

At another point, defence lawyer Dragan Ivetic complained he could not communicate with his client “or be assured that he is able to meaningfully follow proceedings”.

The man called the “Butcher of Bosnia” earlier needed an operation to remove a benign polyp on his colon, and had a request for a delay on health grounds rejected ahead of the hearing.

What was Mladic convicted of?

Mladic was the military commander of Bosnian Serb forces against Bosnian Croat and Bosniak armies. He went on trial at the ICTY in 2012, and was convicted in 2017.

The court found he had “significantly contributed” to the genocide at Srebrenica.

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Media captionWhat happened at Srebrenica? Explained in under two minutes

The other charges included war crimes and crimes against humanity.

He was cleared of a second count of genocide in other municipalities. The court will hear an appeal by prosecutors against this acquittal this week.

The Mothers of Srebrenica, a group of women related to victims of a massacre in the town in 1995, said the hearing “must not lose motivation, and must carry out its mission”.

“We hope Mladic will be found guilty for genocide in other towns as well,” Munira Subasic, the organisation’s president, told AFP.

At the end of the war in 1995 Mladic went into hiding and lived in obscurity in Serbia, protected by family and elements of the security forces.

He was finally tracked down and arrested at a cousin’s house in rural northern Serbia in 2011 after 16 years on the run.

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