Why Did Ratko Mladic Commit Genocide Against Bosnia’s Muslims?

Source: The New Yorker


Minutes before an international war-crimes tribunal in The Hague convicted him, last week, of committing genocide, Ratko Mladić, the former Serbian Army commander, now a doddering seventy-four-year-old man, mocked the charges against him. “Everything you said is pure lies,” Mladić shouted at the three-judge panel, midway through his sentencing. “Shame on you!” Mladić was removed from the courtroom, and the judges formally declared him guilty of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, for his role in the most monstrous acts committed in Europe since the Second World War.

A three-judge panel, comprised of jurists from the Netherlands, South Africa, and Germany, ruled that, as part of Mladić’s drive to terrorize Muslims and Croats into leaving a self-declared Serb mini-state, “groups of women, and girls as young as twelve-years-old, were routinely and brutally raped” by Mladić’s forces. The judges detailed how soldiers under Mladić’s command killed, brutalized, and starved unarmed Muslim and Croat prisoners: twenty-four prisoners suffocated and died inside a transport truck; in one camp, soldiers machine-gunned a hundred and ninety prisoners; and, in one case, “detainees were forced to rape and engage in other degrading sexual acts with one another.” Mladić’s forces “deliberately shelled and sniped the civilian population of Sarajevo,” while the residents were “walking with their children, fetching water, collecting wood or while at the market.” Mladić’s forces took U.N. peacekeepers hostage in order to thwart retaliatory nato air strikes, and, in the final months of the conflict, after taking the town of Srebrenica, “systematically murdered several thousand Bosnian Muslim men and boys.” “The crimes committed rank among the most heinous known to humankind,” Alphons Orie, the presiding judge, declared, before sentencing Mladić to life in prison.

Americans, particularly younger ones, can be forgiven for being confused by the verdict’s timing. Mladić committed his crimes more than twenty years ago, during the war in Bosnia. After a U.S.-brokered peace accord ended the conflict, which had killed a hundred thousand people, Mladić went into hiding. He evaded arrest for fourteen years. His trial is the last to be heard by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, a twenty-four-year-old U.N.-created body that adjudicated the cases of all hundred and sixty-one people it indicted for war crimes, including sixty-five who were arrested and brought to The Hague to face justice.

The judges’ written verdict is two thousand five hundred and twenty-six pages long—the product of a five-year trial that included five-hundred and ninety-one witnesses and nearly ten thousand exhibits. Mladić’s defenders dismissed the verdict as part of a conspiracy against him; his defense lawyers said that they would appeal. Mladić’s son, Darko, said his father told him after the verdict that the tribunal was a “nato commission . . . trying to criminalize a legal endeavor of Serbian people in times of civil war to protect itself from the aggression.” RT, the Russian state-backed broadcaster, has repeatedly aired news pieces questioning whether thousands of Muslims were, in fact, murdered in Srebrenica.

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