Former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladić, nicknamed the “Bosnian butcher”, faces a final day in court where he will hear the ruling on his appeal against his conviction for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Twenty-six years after the Srebrenica massacre, Mladić, 78, will appear before the United Nations-backed International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague on Tuesday for what is expected to be more than an hour of rulings. .
Five judges will present their findings on 10 crimes, including extermination, forcible transfers, terror, hostage-taking and illegal attacks on civilians, for which Mladić was sentenced to life in prison in 2017.
The court will also rule on UN Prosecutor Serge Brammertz’s request that a new charge of genocide be added to the list of convictions. It will be the final ruling of the court, without recourse to further appeals.
The mothers of some of the 8,000 men and boys killed in the worst act of bloodshed on European soil since World War II are expected to gather in front of the courtroom when the verdict comes.
The outcome of the hearing remains uncertain, although it is highly unlikely that Mladic will go free. That would require three of the judges to acquire him from all positions.
The judge presiding over the case, Prisca Matimba Nyambe of Zambia issued a dissenting opinion in the 2012 conviction of Zdravko Tolimir, one of seven deputy commanders who reported directly to Mladić, arguing that the evidence against him was “circumstantial”.
He has also described Mladić’s conduct towards Bosnian Muslims as kinder than threatening at the time the “evacuation” of the civilian population was being planned.
“For me, some people were intimidated by him in these meetings, as Mladić was a well-known general with a commanding presence in a situation of great uncertainty,” he wrote.
This week, however, Brammertz said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the verdict, saying he “cannot imagine any other outcome than confirmation.”
Iva Vukušić, a historian at Utrecht University and an expert in war crimes trials, said it would be important for survivors to have a unanimous trial.
She said: “This is really one of his most important rehearsals, and it’s been 25 years in the making. If they convict, but the presiding judge really disagrees on the very substance of what happened, then it is less serious, you still go to jail, but for a trial, it is weaker if the presiding judge says they fundamentally disagree. Then the nationalists have a field day saying: ‘Look, they condemned him, but not even the presiding judge believed it.’
Mladić, who spent a decade on the run before his capture in 2011 in northern Serbia, was the chief of staff of Bosnian Serb forces from 1992 to 1996, during the civil war and ethnic cleansing that followed the disintegration of the Yugoslav state.
Nearly 600 people testified for the prosecution and defense during the original four-year trial. In delivering the verdicts, Chief Justice Alphons Orie said the crimes are “among the most heinous known to mankind and include genocide and extermination.”