The Irish Times view on Ratko Mladic: held to account

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia confirmed a 2017 life sentence for the former Serb general

Former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic appears on the screen of a live television broadcast from The Hague in the Netherlands as Bosnian Muslims, survivors and family members of victims of the Srebrenica massacre, watch it before hearing the sentence of UN judges on Tuesday. Photograph: Elvis Barukcic/AFP via Getty Images

Former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic appears on the screen of a live television broadcast from The Hague in the Netherlands as Bosnian Muslims, survivors and family members of victims of the Srebrenica massacre, watch it before hearing the sentence of UN judges on Tuesday. Photograph: Elvis Barukcic/AFP via Getty Images

 

After a long legal battle in the Hague, Ratko Mladic, the “butcher of the Balkans”, was finally and decisively pronounced guilty of genocide this week.

The judges of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia confirmed a 2017 life sentence for the former Serb general for the genocide of Bosniaks from Srebrenica in 1995, where some 8,000 were massacred. He was also guilty of the persecution of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina during the 1992-95 war, terrorising the population of Sarajevo during the siege of the city, and taking UN peacekeepers hostage. Families of the dead celebrated outside the court.

But the appeals chamber also dismissed the parallel appeal brought by the prosecution, which had sought a second conviction against Mladic over crimes committed against Muslims and Croats in some other areas during the early phase of the war from 1992.

For Mladic that will mean little but, unfortunately, the ruling will undermine arguments that there should have been more robust and earlier intervention by the international community to curb what the UN’s Commission for Determining the Facts later called “a slow-motion genocide”.

Srebrenica was unique as a genocide only by virtue of its scale. Although the UN later adopted the “responsibility to protect” – the obligation on the international community to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity – states have been reluctant to call genocide by its name. Their reluctance was related to an unwillingness to face up to the moral obligation to intervene in defence of beleaguered communities. The world stood by.

Yet in truth in Prijedor, Vlasenica and three other municipalities, the campaign of persecution in 1992 escalated to such a degree that it demonstrated precisely the intent to destroy Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats as a group.

Nevertheless, the verdict against Mladic remains an important warning to dictators that, slowly but surely, they will be brought to account.

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