Saturday 21 September 2019

'Butcher of Bosnia' to face his day of judgment

Former Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic. Photo: Getty Images
Former Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic. Photo: Getty Images

Jovana Gec, Belgrade

As the UN war crimes court prepares to wrap up its work with a verdict in the landmark genocide trial of former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic, deep divisions persist in the Balkans over the tribunal's role in delivering justice and paving the way for reconciliation in the war-torn region of Europe.

Mladic's trial is the last major case for the Netherlands-based tribunal for former Yugoslavia, which was set up in 1993 to prosecute those most responsible for the worst carnage in Europe since World War II.

The tribunal declared its aim was to "deter future crimes and render justice to thousands of victims and their families, thus contributing to a lasting peace in the former Yugoslavia".

More than 20 years on, however, the nations in the region are still led by nationalist politicians and remain divided deeply along ethnic lines.

Known as the "Butcher of Bosnia", Mladic was charged with 11 counts of genocide and war crimes for the war's worst atrocities, including the 1995 slaughter by his troops of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, and the siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo.

While widely seen as a symbol of Bosnian war horrors, Mladic is still revered as a hero by many Serbs. In his native Bosnian village of Bozinovici, the main street is named after Mladic and almost every house cherishes at least one photo of him. T-shirts with his wartime portrait and inscription "Serbian Hero" are sold on the streets of Serbian towns.

The 75-year-old former general, who insists he is innocent, faces a maximum life sentence if convicted.

Unlike Serbs, most Muslim Bosniaks in Bosnia believe Mladic deserves to spend the rest of his days in prison. Among them is Ramiza Burzic, who lost her two sons in the Srebrenica massacre and so far has found just partial remains of one of them.

"I expect he will be sentenced to life in prison, so that all his progeny will know what kind of a man he was and what he did," she said.

This ethnic divide is reflected in how various groups judge the tribunal's legacy. Serbs view the court as highly biased, while the other ethnic groups generally harbour a more positive stance.

Irish Independent

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