Mladic war crimes trial stopped over UN blunders
THE long-awaited war crimes trial of Ratko Mladic was suspended indefinitely yesterday just 24 hours after it finally began -- following an "unprecedented" error by United Nations prosecutors.
The judge ordered a halt to proceedings after it emerged that the prosecution had failed to disclose millions of pages of evidence to the former general's defence team.
The extraordinary blunder is a severe blow to the reputation of the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and is likely to lead to a delay of several months before the case begins again.
Given Mladic's frail health, the suspension has also raised fears that he could, like Slobodan Milosevic before him, die before a verdict is reached. The trial had already been scheduled to last at least two years.
Milosevic, the former Serbian president, was the first head of state indicted for genocide since the Nazis, but he died in a UN jail cell after delays and legal wrangling prolonged his trial over a four-year period.
Mladic (70) has suffered three brain strokes and is also said to have been treated for cancer in recent years.
The "substantial" errors by the prosecution team involve between two to eight million pages of case files and witness statements that have not been disclosed to Mladic's defence.
The pages, which together amount to 40,000 documents, relate to the first 24 witnesses that the prosecution had hoped to call between May 29 and July, when the court goes into recess.
The deadline for disclosing the files was November. It emerged yesterday that despite "multiple" complaints the UN prosecutors had failed to hand over the documents. An internal prosecution document filed on Tuesday, a day before the Mladic trial began, admitted that "full disclosure has not yet been made" and "issues may impact on trial fairness".
Alphons Orie, the presiding UN judge, described the lapse as an "unpleasant surprise".
Branko Lukic, Mladic's defence lawyer, said the blunder "threatens to be a significant blight to the integrity of these proceedings".
Before the trial was adjourned "sine die", or indefinitely, UN prosecutors had set out how Mladic had organised the round-up, murder and burial of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica.
After unleashing "utter brutality" and "setting in motion" the first genocide on Europe's soil since the Holocaust, the Bosnian Serb general partied at a wedding on the same day thousands of people were executed.
Peter McCloskey, the UN prosecutor, said that only an "effective professional army" such as Mladic's Bosnian Serb force, the Vojska Republike Srpske, was capable of carrying out the Srebrenica massacre.
Radio intercepts, Mladic's own diaries and signed battle plans will be produced in evidence to show he was responsible for organising brutal instructions from Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb president.
Karadzic's infamous "directive seven" instructed Mladic to "create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival or life for the inhabitants of Srebrenica".
On July 14, 1995, Mladic took time out of his military campaign in Srebrenica the day after mass executions began at Kravica. In Belgrade he held talks with NATO and UN commanders, including the British General Rupert Smith, on July 15, an encounter noted in his own diary.
"Mladic in his own hand recorded that General Rupert Smith informed him of rumours of atrocities, massacres and rape being committed in Srebrenica," said the UN prosecutor.
"What did Mladic do? He went to a wedding the next morning."
The UN court was shown a picture of Mladic partying on a day when at least 1,500 men were slaughtered. The mothers of the victims wept as they listened. (© Daily Telegraph, London)