Mladic refuses to testify at Karadzic war crimes trial
Former Bosnian Serb army leader dismisses Hague court as ‘satanic’
Ratko Mladic “I do not recognise this court. It is a Nato creation. It is a satanic court,” he said, when asked to take the oath. Photograph: AP/ICTY
It’s a long way down from being the most powerful military figure in Bosnia to standing in the dock of an international court admitting you can’t give evidence because you’ve left your dentures in your detention cell, but that’s where former general Ratko Mladic found himself yesterday.
And yet for all that – and despite the fact that this was the first time since the end of the Bosnian War that he and his former ally, Radovan Karadzic, had met face to face – Mladic was in no doubt as to who was the most important man in Courtroom 1. Accustomed throughout his military career to being the centre of attention and in charge, it was as if the 71-year-old general had decided that if you can’t hold their attention one way, you can do it another. So with military precision he went for the don’t-make -it-easy strategy . . .
Appearing involuntarily as a witness for the defence in the trial of Karadzic (68), the former president of Republika Srpska, Mladic knew he’d been subpoenaed primarily to undermine the charge that there had been a “joint criminal enterprise” between them during the mid-1990s war. Each is on trial separately, and both are charged with crimes against humanity for allegedly devising and executing a conspiracy to ethnically cleanse Bosnia of its Muslims and Croats, and with genocide for allegedly masterminding the Srebrenica massacre in July 1995.
Having appeared despite repeated warnings about his ill health and “memory disorder”, the question was would Mladic play legal ball? The answer came as no surprise.
“I do not recognise this court. It is a Nato creation. It is a satanic court,” he said, when asked to take the oath.
Warned by presiding judge O-Gon Kwon that he risked being held in contempt of court, with possible imprisonment for seven years, he replied: “Your subpoenas, your platitudes, your false indictments . . . I do not care one bit about any of it.”
At this point, Mladic said he had left his dentures in his detention cell and would not be able to answer any further questions without them. After an adjournment to find them, Karadzic rose to put six pre-arranged questions to Mladic, greeting him first with, “Good morning general, sir”.
An impassive Mladic gave the same rehearsed response to each question: “I cannot and do not wish to testify . . . because it would impair my health and prejudice my own case.”
Instead he offered to read a seven-page statement – an offer the judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia politely refused, ending the proceedings after less than two hours.
As he was led out of the courtroom past the dock, he looked briefly at Karadzic and shouted in Serbian: “Thanks a lot, Radovan. I’m sorry. These idiots wouldn’t let me speak. They defend Nato bombs.”
With a final gesture to the gallery, he was gone. Mission accomplished. Not an inch.