Ratko Mladic led ethnic cleansing, war crimes trial told


BBC's Mike Wooldridge: "The prosecutor said Ratko Mladic was implementing a plan to exterminate non-Serbs"

Former Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic intended to "ethnically cleanse" Bosnia, the opening day of his war crimes trial has heard.

Gen Mladic faces 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including genocide, in connection with the brutal 1992-95 Bosnian war.

Prosecutors in The Hague said they would show his hand in the crimes.

He has called the accusations "monstrous" and the court has entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.

Gen Mladic is accused of orchestrating the massacre of more than 7,000 Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) boys and men at Srebrenica in 1995.

He is also charged in connection with the 44-month siege of Sarajevo during which more than 10,000 people died.

'Criminal endeavour'

Gen Mladic, dressed in a dark grey suit, applauded and gave a thumbs-up as the judges walked in.


The 70-year-old sitting in the dock is physically diminished from the swaggering war leader we knew 20 years ago; but he's as proud and defiant as ever.

Mladic gestured, briefly, toward the public gallery, offering a sarcastic slow hand clap, and holding up a book he had with him - apparently a history of the Bosnian Serrb Army that he once commanded so notoriously.

He caught the eye of one of the Bosnian women, who gestured to him. He responded by drawing his finger across his throat in a gesture that seemed dismissive and contemptuous rather than threatening before more mundanely asking the judge for bathroom break. The judge warned him to focus on what was happening in court and refrain from inappropriate communication with the public gallery.

Otherwise, the man who for 15 years was the world's most elusive, most wanted war crimes suspect, sat quietly taking notes, saying nothing.

The war the prosecution described was not one of ancient ethnic hatreds. It was a carefully planned criminal enterprise that was well orchestrated, centrally directed and state-sponsored.

We heard Gen Mladic's voice, from a recording in 1993, boasting that "every time I go by Sarajevo, I kill someone in passing. I kick the hell out of the Turks [offensive term for Bosniaks]."

It was, for a moment - in the still forensic calm of the courtroom - a reminder of the terror that once prevailed in Bosnia, and of the violent abandon with which the aim of building an ethnically pure Serb state was pursued.

The prosecution opened the hearing at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) with an audio-visual presentation laying out the case against Gen Mladic.

Prosecuting counsel Dermot Groome said they would prove Gen Mladic's hand in the crimes.

"Four days ago marked two decades since Ratko Mladic became the commander of the main staff of the army of Republika Srpska - the VRS," he said.

"On that day, Mladic began his full participation in a criminal endeavour that was already in progress. On that day, he assumed the mantle of realising through military might the criminal goals of ethnically cleansing much of Bosnia. On that day, he commenced his direct involvement in serious international crimes."

Mr Groome said that by the time Gen Mladic and his troops had "murdered thousands in Srebrenica", they were "well-rehearsed in the craft of murder".

He then showed judges video of the aftermath of a notorious shelling of a market in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, in which dozens of people died.

Mr Groome said there was "no doubt" that Gen Mladic had controlled the shelling of Sarajevo. He had promised that the city would shake, the prosecutor said.

Mr Groome said the attacks were part of an "overarching" plan to ethnically cleanse non-Serbs from parts of Bosnia.

Gen Mladic has been awaiting trial in the same prison as his former political leader Radovan Karadzic, who was arrested in 2008 and is now about half-way through his trial on similar charges to Gen Mladic.

The charges

  • Counts 1/2: Genocide of Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and Bosnian Croats in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Srebrenica
  • Count 3: Persecutions
  • Counts 4/5/6: Extermination and murder
  • Counts 7/8: Deportation and inhumane acts
  • Counts 9/10: Terror and unlawful attacks
  • Count 11: Taking of UN hostages

Mr Groome said Radovan Karadzic's choice of Gen Mladic was not random but because he could help to achieve the strategic goals of Bosnian Serbs.

At one point, presiding Judge Alphons Orie told Gen Mladic to focus on the court proceedings and not take part in "inappropriate interaction" with people in the public gallery.

Mr Groome said crimes of sexual violence had played an integral part of the process of "taking over and ethnically cleansing Bosnia".

"While women were most often targeted for such crimes of terrible violation, men were also victims," he said.

In the third and final session of the day, the prosecution highlighted the role of snipers in Sarajevo, showing images of a child shot dead on a street and pictures taken from sniper nests overlooking the besieged city.

The trial was later adjourned until Thursday.

During the proceedings, members of the Mothers of Srebrenica group held a vigil outside the court.

A Bosniak survivor of the Serb-run detention camps at Omarska and Manjaca in northern Bosnia said he was glad to be at the opening day of Gen Mladic's trial.

Relatives of victims outside the court in The Hague. 16 May 2012 Relatives of Srebrenica victims gathered outside the court as the trial began

"It's the first time I've seen this man, today, the man responsible for genocide and war crimes in Bosnia-Hercegovina together with Karadzic as political leader," Satko Mujagic told the BBC.

"To be able to see him where he belongs and especially because of my own history being detained completely illegally as a civilian young boy in Omarska and Manjaca for 200 days."

Judicial authorities have rejected defence calls to delay proceedings, most recently a petition to have Dutch Judge Orie replaced on grounds of alleged bias.

However, even as the trial began, there were further indications it would be delayed.

Judge Orie said the court was considering postponing the presentation of evidence - due to start on 29 May - due to "errors" by the prosecution in disclosing evidence to the defence.

Mr Groome said he would not oppose a "reasonable adjournment".

Gen Mladic spent 15 years on the run before being apprehended by Serb forces last May and sent to The Hague.

The number of crimes of which he stands accused has been almost halved to speed up his trial.


Gen Mladic is accused of committing genocide and other crimes against Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and Bosnian Croats in a campaign of ethnic cleansing that began in 1992 and climaxed in Srebrenica in 1995.

Counsel Dermot Groome: "The indictment against Mladic charges crimes of sexual violence"

Then, Serb fighters overran the Srebrenica enclave in eastern Bosnia - supposedly under the protection of Dutch UN peacekeepers. Men and boys were separated off, shot dead and bulldozed into mass graves - later to be dug up and reburied in more remote spots.

These were the worst atrocities in Europe since the end of World War II.

Pre-trial hearings have been characterised by ill-tempered outbursts from Gen Mladic, who has heckled the judge and interrupted proceedings.

"The whole world knows who I am," he said at a hearing last year.

"I am General Ratko Mladic. I defended my people, my country... now I am defending myself."

The case has stirred up strong emotions among watching survivors, with some shouting "murderer" and "killer" from the court gallery.

However, while Gen Mladic's critics consider him a butcher, to some Serbs he is a national hero.

Gen Mladic suffered at least one stroke while in hiding and remains in frail health.

The architect of the Balkan wars, former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, died in detention in his cell in 2006, before receiving a verdict.

War in the former Yugoslavia 1991 - 1999

The former Yugoslavia was a Socialist state created after German occupation in World War II and a bitter civil war. A federation of six republics, it brought together Serbs, Croats, Bosnian Muslims, Albanians, Slovenes and others under a comparatively relaxed communist regime. Tensions between these groups were successfully suppressed under the leadership of President Tito.
After Tito's death in 1980, tensions re-emerged. Calls for more autonomy within Yugoslavia by nationalist groups led in 1991 to declarations of independence in Croatia and Slovenia. The Serb-dominated Yugoslav army lashed out, first in Slovenia and then in Croatia. Thousands were killed in the latter conflict which was paused in 1992 under a UN-monitored ceasefire.
Bosnia, with a complex mix of Serbs, Muslims and Croats, was next to try for independence. Bosnia's Serbs, backed by Serbs elsewhere in Yugoslavia, resisted. Under leader Radovan Karadzic, they threatened bloodshed if Bosnia's Muslims and Croats - who outnumbered Serbs - broke away. Despite European blessing for the move in a 1992 referendum, war came fast.
Yugoslav army units, withdrawn from Croatia and renamed the Bosnian Serb Army, carved out a huge swathe of Serb-dominated territory. Over a million Bosnian Muslims and Croats were driven from their homes in ethnic cleansing. Serbs suffered too. The capital Sarajevo was besieged and shelled. UN peacekeepers, brought in to quell the fighting, were seen as ineffective.
International peace efforts to stop the war failed, the UN was humiliated and over 100,000 died. The war ended in 1995 after NATO bombed the Bosnian Serbs and Muslim and Croat armies made gains on the ground. A US-brokered peace divided Bosnia into two self-governing entities, a Bosnian Serb republic and a Muslim-Croat federation lightly bound by a central government.
In August 1995 the Croatian army stormed areas in Croatia under Serb control prompting thousands to flee. Soon Croatia and Bosnia were fully independent. Slovenia and Macedonia had already gone. Montenegro left later. In 1999 Kosovo's ethnic Albanians fought Serbs in another brutal war to gain independence. Serbia ended the conflict beaten, battered and alone.
BACK {current} of {total} NEXT

More on This Story

Mladic on trial

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    I agree that the Iraq war was wrong in many ways...but it sickens me how people are comparing it to the tragic events in Bosnia.

    The very significant difference being that Allied forces in Iraq targeted military personnel and installations, and worked hard to avoid civilian casualities. In Srebrenica innocent unarmed civilians were purposfully targeted.

    I'm sorry, but it's not the same.

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    No mention of Serbia's oldest ally stoking up the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia.No mention of the Russian soldiers in Serb Uniforms.How about the possibility that Milosovic was assissinated by the FSB(KGB) in case he revealed secret support from Russia.We all know how much Putin loves the Muslims(eg Chechen wars at the same time).Maybe Putin should be in the Hague charged with incitement to genocide.

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    Conflict or the conditions leading to conflict can be borne out of merely misunderstanding / distrust and poor communication as much as any direct actions."

    Yes and as Iraq keeps being mentioned, Saddam didn't exactly go out of his way to ensure the "coalition of the willing" were aware he did not actually possess WMDs. He seemed happy to perpetuate that very misunderstanding.

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    Yet we supported Kosovo, despite the clear atrocities committed by the KLA and Thaci in order to foment and prosecute ethnic cleansing of the Serb minority in the area.

    And now we have to support Kosovo’s bankrupt mafiocracy forever.


    Remember: the Serbs are always the baddies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    Shhhh. We're all supposed to believe that the Serbs were the only bad guys.
    I think Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač would disagree with you. But hey, don’t let facts undermine your bias.

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    I actually have no problem with Serbia engaging in total war with the Muslims, since Muslims conquered that region from its non-Muslim population back in the 16-17th century, before being defeated at Vienna in 1683AD. It is only right that the land's original owners be able to retaliate (albeit late) to reclaim their land from its conquerors, exactly like we did in the Crusades for the holy land.

  • Comment number 239.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    People seem to forget this wasnt war fought in some distand african or asian dictatorship, it was fought in the enar heart of europe, 2 hours from London by plane. While this butcher is undoubtably guilty, guilt should be spread over a lot of european politicians of the time.
    Their unexplainable behaviour in observing while bosnian muslims were slaughtered by thousands is still a mystery to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    Or simply put, most international conflicts are a result of "you got stuff I want."
    Land, oil, or resources in general. There is always a "reason" and "good" gov can always come up with a good reason - well, if the gov is democracy, it will then feed it to the public.

  • Comment number 236.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    BTW did they ever arrest and put on trial any of the murderers of thousands upon thousands of Serbs during WW2? It seems even the vile German SS was shocked at the appetite the non Serbs had for killing their fellow countrymen. Just asking

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    In 1941 General von Horstenau OIC Wehrmacht occupying Yugoslavia reported Ustase(Fascist Croat Militia) atrocities against ethnic Serbs,and that he did not have enough troops to intervene.The Gestapo,in 1942,reported to Himmler,the torturing to death of 'up to' 300,000 Serbs by the Ustase.The Ustace pre dates Nazis,formed in 1929.It is religious/ethnic extremist ideology that needs to be in court.

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    The events in the Balkans were just a continuation of a blood-feud going back decades. During WW2 it was the Bosnians turning up with the SS to displace the Serbs from their land, murdering and raping in the process. Sad fact is many young muslims (who have no relationship with the Bosnians other than their faith) have wrongly labelled this perceived apathy as their motivation to join the Jihad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.


    You are assuming some sort of "rationality" in this, surely this is all about irrationality, it makes no sense, it can never make any sense.

    Conflict or the conditions leading to conflict can be borne out of merely misunderstanding / distrust and poor communication as much as any direct actions.

  • Comment number 231.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    83. Peter_Sym
    I spent my 19th birthday escorting an aid convoy in Croatia (and watched two croats play football with a severed head). In the entire 4 months I was there I never used my rifle so I'm neither mechanical or a killer. Perhaps if you'd ever served you'd have more sense.

    Shhhh. We're all supposed to believe that the Serbs were the only bad guys.

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    He could always play the human rights card, everyone else seems to do it. What about Blair and Bush, are they next in line?

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    Another farce, the bias in the selection of defendants is a joke, independent judiciary? I don’t think so. In all wars atrocities have been repaid with reprisals; every state, religious or ethnic group has skeletons in the cupboard (USA excepted). Survivors should emulate the Jewish response after WW2 and provide their own justice, stuff the UN and all its corrupt wasteful appendages.

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    Hatred can only be caused by actions of the other side, and lack of lawful protection from those actions.
    Oh right, that''ll explain why the Nazi killed the Jews then. You haven't thought this through, have you?

  • Comment number 226.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?


Page 11 of 23


More Europe stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.