Ratko Mladic's whirlwind week: From war crimes fugitive to Hague inmate

Ratko Mladic is set to be arraigned Friday at the UN tribunal at The Hague on 11 charges of war crimes for commanding Bosnian Serb forces during the Balkan wars.

By , Staff writer

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    A participant holds a photo of former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic during a rally to protest against the arrest of Mladic in front of the Serbian embassy in Moscow on June 1.
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Ratko Mladic is set to be arraigned Friday before the UN tribunal at The Hague as the highest-ranking Bosnian Serb military figure of the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

Charges against Mr. Mladic include genocide, persecution, extermination, and murder. The indictment submitted today was revised from 15 to 11 charges to “mirror” those of his Bosnian Serb counterpart and political boss, Radovan Karadzic, who was caught in Belgrade two years ago.

Mladic’s arrest after 16 years at large, his speedy extradition from Serbia, and his placement in isolation last night at Scheveningen Prison at The Hague ends a whirlwind that started less than a week ago.

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“Mladic is the most culpable figure to be prosecuted. He was the commander, had command responsibility, and gave direct orders. He is on video giving direct orders at Srebrenica. He wasn’t a guy behind a desk at Banja Luka or Pale [the Bosnian Serb headquarters], but he was on the scene ordering the shots. So he needs to be prosecuted," says Michael Scharf, war crimes specialist at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, cofounder of the Public International Law and Policy Group, and a former legal official at the US State Department.

"At the time when I was in the State Department when [Secretary of State Lawrence] Eagleburger made his famous naming names speech, the 10 people most wanted, it went: Milosevic, Karadzic, and Mladic was third. That’s why he needs to be prosecuted for this tribunal to be seen as successful. That, and he is still seen as a hero in Serbia," he says.

Mladic's significance to The Hague

Mladic's transfer leaves only 1 of 161 tribunal indictees not apprehended. Goran Hadzic, a Croatian-Serb accused of driving non-Serbs from their homes in Eastern Slavonia early in the 1992-1995 war, remains at large.

Tribunal chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz said today that Mladic’s trial is of importance due to the general’s “power and position … the most powerful military figure in Bosnia during the war,” who was part of crimes that “shocked the conscience” and that “must be answered.”

Mr. Brammertz said the “full significance” of Mladic’s transfer to The Hague is “difficult to fully express,” and that “we must not forget that victims of the war have been waiting for justice.” The tribunal, set up in 1993, has been undergoing reductions and appeals are to be ended by 2014.

Architect of Srebrenica

The Bosnian-born Mladic rose to prominence in the early 1990s as the chief implementer of a “Greater Serbia” policy designed to rid large swaths of Yugoslavia, particularly in Bosnia, of non-Serbs. His authority and notoriety peaked in 1995, when he became the architect of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre where Serb forces overran a small UN “safe haven." Some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim boys and men were tracked and killed.

A 10th anniversary commemoration of Srebrenica showed TV footage of Mladic, with the general standing in front of a large crowd of unarmed civilians in the town, controlled by Serb forces, as Dutch UN peacekeepers withdraw. He patted the head of one young boy and said, "Don't be afraid. Take it easy. Thirty buses are coming ... to deliver you ... . No one will hurt you."

Yet in footage from Belgrade TV that aired later that day, a heavily breathing Mladic states, "... we are giving this town to the Serbian people. The moment has finally come for us after the 19th century rebellion against the Turks, to take our revenge on them ... ."

Considering genocide charge

On Tuesday night, the Associated Press reported that Mladic was cooperative as Yugoslav tribunal officials took him into custody. The Associated Press report said that tribunal registrar John Hocking spoke to Mladic through an interpreter and the two men understood each other clearly. Other witnesses described Mladic as talkative.

Mr. Hocking told AP there were no medical problems preventing Mladic from being placed in a Scheveningen cell. Mladic’s lawyer in Belgrade has said the military leader is physically unable to stand trial. Tribunal medical officials will examine Mladic before he is arraigned Friday.

Along with fellow inmate Radovan Karadzic, Mladic will be housed near Vujadin Popovic, a lieutenant colonel under Mladic who was sentenced to life in prison last year for Srebrenica crimes. He is awaiting appeal.

A sensitive legal issue arising in recent days is whether the tribunal prosecution should establish the charge of “genocide” against Mladic. In April 2005, the tribunal’s appeal’s chamber found that Srebrenica did constitute genocide in a case against Serb Gen. Radislav Krstic, the first such finding since Nuremberg. Yet some court-watchers argue a legal verdict on genocide may be too open-ended.

"The Mladic indictment charges genocide (difficult to prove and open to endless technical legal arguments) and numerous war crimes throughout the Balkan conflict," wrote former war crimes judge Geoffrey Robertson in the British daily Independent. "It should be replaced by just one charge, the crime against humanity constituted by his command responsibility for ordering the worst war crime since the Japanese death marches of POWs at the end of the Second World War, namely the slaughter of more than 7,000 prisoners of war – the Muslim men and boys killed at Srebrenica."

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