Ex-Bosnian Serb General Mladić Guilty of Genocide and War Crimes

Ratko Mladić, the former Commander of the Main Staff of the Bosnian Serb Army, was convicted in November 2017 of genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war.

In the final trial judgement of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Trial Chamber I, issued on 22 November 2017, convicted Ratko Mladić, the former Commander of the Main Staff of the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS), of genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war. These crimes were committed by Serb forces during the armed conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) between 1992 and 1995. Mladić was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Mladić was convicted of genocide and persecution, extermination, murder, and the inhumane act of forcible transfer in the area of Srebrenica in 1995; of persecution, extermination, murder, deportation and inhumane act of forcible transfer in municipalities throughout BiH; of murder, terror and unlawful attacks on civilians in Sarajevo; and of hostage-taking of UN personnel. He was acquitted of the charge of genocide in several municipalities in BiH in 1992.

The judges found that Mladić committed these crimes through his participation in, and contribution to, four joint criminal enterprises (JCE), i.e. the Overarching JCE, the Sarajevo JCE, the Srebrenica JCE and the Hostage-taking JCE.

'Brutal' circumstances

The Overarching JCE, which existed from 1991 until November 1995, had the objective of permanently removing Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory through the commission of crimes in municipalities throughout BiH (Municipalities). The Chamber found that the evidence did not support a finding that the crime of genocide formed part of the objective of the Overarching JCE.

The judges established that Bosnian Serb Forces killed many Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats, while numerous others were forcibly displaced from their homes, during and after the take-over of the Municipalities or following attacks on non-Serb villages.

Circumstances were brutal; those who tried to defend their homes were met with ruthless force. Mass executions occurred and some victims succumbed after being beaten. Many of the perpetrators who had captured Bosnian Muslims showed little or no respect for human life or dignity”, said Presiding Judge Alphons Orie.

Other victims were arrested, detained in detention facilities, often under inhumane living conditions, subjected to torture, beatings, rape and other acts of sexual violence, and then transported out of the municipalities.

Mladić's instrumental role

Mladić was instrumental to the commission of these crimes, the judges found, so much so that without his actions, the events would not have transpired as they did. The judges therefore found that he significantly contributed to achieving the common objective of permanently removing Muslims and Croats from Serb-claimed territory in BiH by committing the crimes. Mladić was found guilty of persecution, extermination, murder, deportation, and the inhumane act of forcible transfer.

The judges further found by majority (with Judge Orie dissenting), that the physical perpetrators in several municipalities intended to destroy the Bosnian Muslims in those Municipalities as a part of the protected group. However, the judges concluded that the Bosnian Muslims targeted in each municipality formed a relatively small part and were not in other ways a substantial part of the protected group. Consequently, the Chamber was not satisfied that the only reasonable inference was that the physical perpetrators possessed the required intent to destroy a substantial part of the protected group of Bosnian Muslims.

Siege of Sarajevo

Between May 1992 and November 1995, the Judges found, Mladić significantly contributed to a JCE to establish and carry out a campaign of sniping and shelling, aimed to spread terror among the civilian population of Sarajevo (Sarajevo JCE).

During this period, the VRS deliberately shelled and sniped the civilian population of Sarajevo daily, often at locations that had little or no military value, resulting in deaths and injuries of thousands of citizens. The people of Sarajevo, presiding Judge Orie said, “were made to live in a state of constant distress. Every time they or their loved ones left their homes, they wondered if they would be targeted by sniper or artillery fire”.

The judges determined that Mladić intended to perpetrate these crimes to achieve the objective of the Sarajevo JCE and that his actions were instrumental to the commission of the crimes. The Chamber therefore found Mladić guilty of the crimes of terror, unlawful attacks on civilians and murder.

The judges also established that a JCE existed with the common purpose of taking UN personnel hostage to compel NATO to abstain from conducting air strikes against Bosnian Serb targets (Hostage-taking JCE).

To this end, between approximately 25 May and 24 June 1995, UN personnel were detained by Bosnian Serb Forces and taken to various locations throughout BiH. Some were chained or handcuffed, at times at gunpoint, outside locations of military significance. Mladić intended to detain the UN personnel and issued threats against them during their detention in order to achieve the objective of stopping the NATO air strikes.

Events in Srebrenica

The judges concluded that Mladić’s contributions were central to the implementation of the Hostage-taking JCE’s objective and that he is therefore guilty of the crime of taking hostages. Further, the Chamber found that in 1995 Mladić participated in a JCE to eliminate the Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica (Srebrenica JCE).

In March 1995, Mladić signed orders for a strategic operation against the enclave, intending to empty it of its Bosnian Muslim population and make the area Serbian territory. After the VRS entered Srebrenica on 11 July 1995, the Bosnian Muslim women, children, and some elderly men were forcibly removed from the enclave to Bosnian Muslim-held territory. The Bosnian-Muslim men taken from the UN base in Potočari were detained in temporary detention facilities and later, together with thousands of others captured from the column fleeing the enclave on foot, bussed to various sites in Srebrenica, Bratunac, and Zvornik municipalities, where they were executed.

The judges found that Mladić intended to carry out the objective of the Srebrenica JCE by destroying the Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, by killing the men and boys and forcibly removing the women, young children, and some elderly men. The ICTY therefore found Mladić guilty of genocide, persecution, murder, extermination, and the inhumane act of forcible transfer.