Toothless Mladic turns war crimes tribunal into farce
Published 28/01/2014 | 12:05
GENERAL Ratko Mladic, the so-called "Butcher of Bosnia", denounced the Hague war crimes tribunal as a "Satanic court" on Tuesday as he was hauled into the witness box to give evidence on behalf of one of his co-accused.
Declaring that he was "not afraid of anybody but God", Mr Mladic, 71, tried to read a prepared statement rather than face cross-examination - and asked that his false teeth to be brought up from the cells so that he could read it more clearly.
Even once his dentures were in, Mr Mladic continued to refuse to answer any questions from Mr Karadzic, who referred addressed him during the hearing as "General Sir".
The geriatric war crimes suspect's display of defiance came after he was brought before the court during the trial of Karadzic, 68, the former Bosnian Serb leader. The pair are jointly accused of masterminding the Srebrenica massacre of 1995, in which more than 7,000 Muslims died, as well as other war crimes.
Asked by Karadzic whether there was ever "an agreement or understanding to expel Muslims and Croats living in Serb-controlled areas," and whether he had ever intended to "terrorise the citizens of Sarajevo by killing and sniping", Mladic gave the same stock answer. "I reserve my right not to testify because I may injure my rights in my own case," he told the court.
He said that his statement - which he waved above his head at times - "touched" on the events in question, but the judges still refused to admit it as evidence, despite Mladic proesting that it was "only seven pages long".
His lawyer, Branko Lukic, also claimed that in any event, his elderly client's recollection of events was shaky because he suffered from a syndrome known as "deception of memory".
"It is a category of memory disorder which means that somebody cannot differentiate between truth and fact, because they speak the truth even if they are not doing so."
After Mr Kwon ruled that Mladic could not be "compelled" to give proper answers to Karadzic's questions, Mladic left the court with a final blast at the judges.
"Thanks for preventing me from stating what I wanted to say," he snarled. "You have confirmed to me that the Hague tribunal is not a court of law but a Satanic court."
As he walked out, escorted by a uniformed security guard, he briefly addressed Karadzic, who was sat just a few yards a way from him, dressed in a dark grey suit and maroon tie. In muttered, off-microphone remarks that could not be overheard fully in the public gallery, he appeared to suggest that the two were victims of a Nato conspiracy.
Peter Robinson, Mr Karadzic's legal advisor, said the two men were unlikely to fall out over Mr Mladic's refusal to give evidence. "They are in the same detention centre at the Hague, and there is no bad feelings between them," he said. "They chat every now and then, although Karadzic tends to be very busy with his legal case," he said.
The detention centre, which holds dozens of war crimes suepcts from all the different warring sides, has been nicknamed "The Hague Hilton" because of its comfortable conditions. Inmates can order food from a local Balkan shop, have conjugal visits, and have access to a kitchen, library, gym and football pitch.
Karadzic, who is being tried separately, claims that he had no knowledge of the massacre, and has requested Mladic to give evidence in the witness box to testify to that effect. But on Tuesday, Mr Mladic protested that he risked incriminating himself in his own case, and was also too ill to examine court documents as the result of a stroke.
However, when the judges over-ruled his request to be excused as a witness, the old swagger of the Serb hardman returned. Grinning widely as he sat in the dock, he then mounted a sustained atttack on the court's legitimacy.
"I do not recognise this Hague Court, it is a Nato creation, a Satanic court, not a court of justice," he told the presiding judge, O-Gon Kwon. "It is trying us for protecting our own people from you."
Having refused to take the oath, Mladic, wearing a grey suit, blue shirt and striped tie, then asked to read from a seven page statement that he had written the day before. When Mr Kwon said he could not read out the statement, and warned him that he face up to seven years in court for refusing to take the oath, he grinned sardonically.
"I am not afraid of anybody but God," he said. "Your subpoenae and your platitudes and your false indictments - I do not care one bit about them."
After Mr Kwon then ruled that it was clear that he was "refusing to testify", Mladic then appeared to change his mind, telling the judge not to be "nervous". He then added: "Could the security people bring my teeth from the cells so that I can speak better?"
The court agreed to his request and the hearing was briefly adjourned.
The drama in Court Number One of the Hague was the firs time that Mladic and Karadzic had faced each other during a war crimes hearing.
The pair are both charged with masterminding the slaughter in Srebrenica, during which Bosnian Serb forces under Mladic's command massacred some 7,000 Bosnian Muslims sheltering a United Nations safe haven. It was Europe's worst single atrocity since World War II, and brought a crisis of credibility for the UN, whose Dutch peacekeepers had guaranteed the Muslims that they would be safe.
Lawyers for Karadzic had hoped that Mladic would say that the two of them “never agreed or planned to expel Muslims or Croats from areas under Serb control”.
Mr Mladic had refused to testify voluntarily, saying that he feared incriminating himself over his own alleged role at Srebrenica. A ruling by The Hague's judges late last year, though, said that any evidence he gave would not be used in his own case, allowing Karadzic's legal team to subpoenae Mladic to take the witness stand.
The pair are currently the most senior Balkans war crimes suspects on trial at The Hague, both having previously spent long periods on the run in their homeland.
Karadzic, who was president of the Republika Srpska, a Serb breakaway state, was arrested in Belgrade in 2008, thirteen years after war crimes charges were first brought against him. He had disguised himself as a pony-tailed New Age guru called Dragan Dabic, who specialised in "bio-energy" faith healing.
Mladic, a former colonel in the Yugoslav National Army, was arrested at a cousin's home in a quiet Serb village in 2011, in circumstances that caused just as much surprise. Having reportedly ordered his bodyguards to shoot him rather than be taken alive, he came quietly when a team of special forces police knocked at his door: some suspect he gave himself up after he would rather finish his days as a “martyr” before The Hague.
Both men are accused of genocide, crime against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war for their alleged roles in commanding Serb forces involved in crimes. As well as Srebrenica, the two are both charged over the 44-month siege of the religiously-mixed city of Sarajevo, which saw the bombardment of whole neighbourhoods and cost at least 12,000 lives.
The pair are currently being held in The Hague’s main detention unit. They face life imprisonment if found guilty.
Mladic's one-time mentor, former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic died in The Hague four years into his own genocide trial in 2006.