Thursday, May 17, 2012

False Start in the Mladić Case

The trial of Ratko Mladić, which began yesterday in the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague, was suspended today due to errors in the prosecution's handling of evidence.  Both sides have conceded that the errors were clerical in nature, but the defense must be given time to review documents that have not previously been made available.  The judge in the case, Alphons Orie, has not indicated when the trial will resume.  Defense attorneys are asking for a delay of six months.

Mladić was the commander of Bosnian Serb (Republika Srpska) forces in the Bosnian War of 1992-1995.  He is accused of ordering two of the worst atrocities of that conflict, the 44-month-long Siege of Sarajevo, in which over 10,000 residents of the city were killed by random shelling from the surrounding hills, and the Srebrenica Massacre, the largest mass murder in Europe since the end of World War II.  He was indicted by the ICTY on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in 1995, but remained at large in Serbia until his capture on May 26, 2011.

In the first day and a half of the trial, before the suspension, prosecutors presented an overview of the atrocities committed in the war, previewing what will be their efforts in the trial to establish Mladić's responsibility as the commander of Bosnian Serb forces for those crimes listed in the indictment.  Videos of Mladić, including one from Srebrenica, were shown to supplement radio intercepts and narrative descriptions of evidence linking Mladić to the crimes.  In one clip he speaks directly to the camera saying, "We give this town to the Serb people as a gift.  Finally, after the rebellion against the Dahis, the time has come to take revenge on the Turks in this region."  (The "rebellion against the Dahis" refers to the Serbs' 1804 revolt against Ottoman rule.)

Although Mladić is 70 and frail, the critical role he played in the Bosnian War has made his prosecution especially important to those seeking justice for what happened in that conflict.  Prosecutors and victims alike must hope that the trial of Mladić does not play out like that of Slobodan Milošević, who died in prison without a verdict after having been on trial for five years.