Life sentence for Mladic spurs calls for Balkan reconciliation

Many Serbs reject UN court's rulings and deny Srebrenica genocide

A woman mourns over a relative’s grave at a memorial centre near Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina,  on Wednesday. Photograph: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty

A woman mourns over a relative’s grave at a memorial centre near Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, on Wednesday. Photograph: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty

 

Victims of Ratko Mladic have joined much of the international community in welcoming the former Bosnian Serb commander’s conviction for genocide in The Hague on Wednesday, but the verdict also exposed the bitter divisions that still stymie reconciliation in the Balkans.

A United Nations court sentenced Mladic to life imprisonment after finding him guilty on 10 of 11 charges, including genocide for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of some 8,000 unarmed Bosnian Muslims – the worst atrocity in Europe since the second World War.

Presiding judge Alphonse Orie said that during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, the former general and his troops had carried out crimes that “rank among the most heinous known to humankind”.

As part of efforts to “ethnically cleanse” non-Serbs from parts of Bosnia, Mladic (74) was also found to have “personally directed” the 44-month siege of Sarajevo, which killed more than 11,000 people and was the longest such ordeal inflicted on a capital city in modern history.

Mladic was removed from the courtroom before the verdict was delivered, when judges rejected his lawyer’s request that he be allowed more medical checks, and he shouted: “This is all lies, you are all liars.”

“Mladic is the epitome of evil and the prosecution of Mladic is the epitome of international justice,” UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said in response to the verdict.

A spokeswoman for the European Union said that “delivering justice and fighting impunity for the most horrific crimes is a fundamental human obligation”.

The US ambassador to Belgrade, Kyle Scott, wrote on Twitter: “All victims deserve justice. It is time for everyone to commit to reconciliation and turn the future.”

‘Disgrace’

Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic – who, like many of his compatriots, denies that the Srebrenica massacre was genocide – urged his nation to “start looking to the future” but said it was “a disgrace” that crimes against Serbs had not been fully punished.

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik went further, saying the verdict “would only reinforce the opinion of the Serb people that Gen Mladic is a hero and a patriot”.

In Srebrenica, which is now run by an ethnic Serb official who denies the genocide, the town’s Bosnian Muslim ex-mayor Camil Durakovic called the verdict “emotionally satisfactory to myself and the families” of victims.

“But unfortunately, we do still have people who deny what happened,” he added.

Nedzad Avdic, who survived the Srebrenica massacre in which his father and uncle were killed, said “the verdict is very late for many of us who waited for so many years.”

“But it is very important and I hope it will have an impact on relations in our country and the situation in the region . . . I believe there is a place for all of us in Bosnia.”