Joe Biden and Michelle Bachelet were among those to praise the decision by United Nations war crimes judges to uphold the Bosnian Serb military leader’s convictions.
Ratko Mladic, 78, led Bosnian Serb forces during Bosnia's 1992-95 war [Peter Dejong/Pool via Reuters]
United Nations war crimes judges on Tuesday upheld a genocide conviction and life sentence against former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic in a move welcomed by the global body’s rights chief, world leaders and others.
The verdict by five judges at the UN International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals at The Hague saw Mladic’s appeal against the decision of a lower tribunal rejected on all grounds.
Mladic, 78, led Bosnian Serb forces during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war.
He was convicted in 2017 on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes including terrorising the civilian population of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo during a 43-month siege, and the killing of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995.
He had been convicted by trial and ordered to serve life in prison, but appealed against both the verdict and sentence.
But the UN judges on Tuesday dismissed his appeal “in its entirety”. Their decision was final and cannot be appealed any further.
The ruling was meanwhile quickly welcomed by a range of world leaders, including the UN’s rights chief Michelle Bachelet and United States President Joe Biden, among others.
Here is a roundup of the reaction:
Bachelet, the UN’s human rights chief, praised Tuesday’s decision.
She said in a statement it “highlights the determination of the international justice system to ensure accountability no matter how long it may take – in Mladic’s case, nearly three decades after he committed his appalling crimes”.
Bachelet also urged officials and the press to “refrain from revisionist narratives, divisive rhetoric and incitement to hatred” in the wake of the ruling.
“Mladic’s crimes were the abhorrent culmination of hatred stoked for political gain. Today’s decision is about his individual responsibility for his dreadful acts, not about collective punishment or apportioning guilt to any particular community,” she said.
Biden hailed the “historic” confirmation of Mladic’s life sentence.
“This historic judgment shows that those who commit horrific crimes will be held accountable,” Biden said in a statement.
“It also reinforces our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world,” he added.
“My thoughts today are with all the surviving families of the many victims of Mladic’s atrocities. We can never erase the tragedy of their deaths, but I hope today’s judgment provides some solace to all those who are grieving.”
Alice Wairimu Nderitu
Nderitu, special adviser to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on the prevention of genocide, said Tuesday’s decision “provides historical certainty and finality for victims and survivors”.
“It also sends a hugely important message throughout the Western Balkans where we see genocide denial and the glorification of convicted criminals such as Mladic not only persisting but increasing,” Nderitu said in a joint statement with Bachelet.
Germany’s foreign minister backed the judge’s decision to confirm the life sentence for Mladic as a “triumph”.
Heiko Maas tweeted that he was “relieved” by The Hague tribunal’s verdict and hoped the rejection of Mladic’s appeal would be “a certain consolation for the victims and the bereaved”.
The President of the European Council described the ruling as an important step to provide justice to the victims of the genocide.
“It will help us all put the painful past behind us and put the future first,” Michel said on Twitter.
Mujanovic, a political scientist who specialises in southeastern European affairs, welcomed the court’s decision to uphold Mladic’s convictions and the latter’s continued imprisonment.
But he criticised the ruling to reject an appeal by prosecutors of Mladic’s acquittal on one other count of genocide linked to ethnic purges early in the Bosnian war.
“The court has again failed to recognise that the genocide in Bosnia was not localised to Srebrenica,” Mujanovic tweeted.
“But he’ll [Mladic] leave the world alone, caged. A kinder death than he gave his victims.”
Buljusmic-Kustura, a writer and lecturer on genocide, fascism and ethnonationalism, said she had “mixed feelings” on Tuesday’s developments, which saw Presiding Judge Prisca Matimba Nyambe of Zambia dissent on several of the court’s rulings concerning Mladic.
“Life sentence. Life in prison. But he gets to have a life while thousands of our people never will,” she tweeted.
“I have mixed feelings. Particularly given that the presiding judge dissented. This isn’t the end, really. As it will just further fuel the Serb ethno-nationalists.”