Mladic verdict ends 23 years of Hague prosecutions

:Ex-Bosnian Serb wartime general Ratko Mladic appears in court at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the Hague, Netherlands Wednesday. — Reuters

Ratko Mladic, the butcher of Srebrenica, was yesterday convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity. There will be some who regard a life sentence as totally inadequate for the horrific crimes carried out by this 74-year-old former commander of the Bosnian Serb army.

Mladic led these thugs for six years to 1996. It was not just the 8,000 men and boys slaughtered on his orders in Srebrenica. Mladic led the four-year siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo with Serb guns firing down on the city from the surrounding hills murdering some 5,500 civilians. Serb snipers vied with each other to score the most kills in “hunts”. Woe betide the Sarajevo citizen who ignored the “Pazite, Snajper!” (“Beware, Sniper!”) signs at key points in the capital.

Bosnian Serbs ran hideous detention camps where their prisoners, both Muslim and Croat, were starved, beaten, tortured, abused and shot out of hand. Mladic rewarded his troops by allowing rape and looting. This monster is now an old man. His time in jail is likely to be short before he is carried out in a coffin.

The Mladic verdict at the end of a trial that has lasted five years is the last to be delivered by the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY). Since it began its work in November 1994, this court in The Hague has tried 104 individuals, 21 of whom were acquitted and 83 convicted and sentenced. With the end of the Mladic case, the ICTY is being wound up next month.

The barbarity epitomized by Srebrenica shocked a complacent Europe that had fondly imagined that any repeat of the depravities perpetrated by Hitler’s Nazis half a century earlier was unthinkable. At the end of the Second World War, the Nuremberg trials which began with the mass prosecution of 24 leading Nazis, including Hitler’s long-time deputy, Herman Göring, were designed to demonstrate the intolerance of the international community for their crimes. There were four separate indictments: conspiring to commit a crime against peace, waging wars of aggression, war crimes and crimes against humanity - this last embracing the genocide against the Jews.

There was no agenda for “reconciliation” in the courtroom presided over by British, American, Soviet and French judges. Nuremberg was all about displaying to the world the abhorrent crimes of the Nazis and the punishment of those who ordered and committed them.

When the ICTY began its work in The Hague 23 years ago, there were some voices that argued the legal process should be aimed at healing the wounds of war and promoting reconciliation. This view even extended to claiming prosecutions should be spread evenly across the Serb, Croat and Bosnian communities, ignoring entirely the overwhelming Serb responsibility for initiating the aggression and subsequent barbarities.

A wise commentator said of the ICTY that its job was not to deliver justice for past wrongs equally on all sides in the cause of reconciliation. Instead the court should measure each case by its legal merits. There should be no preconceived political outcome. This was surely right. However, given the agony and anger over the grievous crimes committed in the Balkan conflict, no sentences however harsh were going to seem sufficient to many people. “Closure” will not come with Mladic’s conviction. Only the years, probably many years, will bring that.