Sentencing of Ratko Mladic: Mixed reactions

The reaction in Bosnia to the news of Ratko Mladić’s conviction for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity was as divided as the country itself, more than 20 years after the end of the civil wars that followed the break-up of the Yugoslav state.

Among Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) the most common response was relief that the trial was finally over and that Mladić – unlike the Serbian leader, Slobodan Milošević – had lived long enough to hear the guilty verdict. The relief was tinged with regret that justice had been such a long time coming and when it came, it appeared so puny alongside the scale of pain and loss.

In the offices of the Sarajevo daily, Dnevni Avaz, Sead Numanović, a journalist, said staff watched in silence as the verdict and sentencing was delivered. “After hearing life in prison, people started applauding, many crying in relief,” he said.

“I was silent, reflecting on the past, my memories as a young guy in besieged Sarajevo, not aware of evil surrounding me. I sensed some kind of emptiness.”

In Srebrenica, scene of the 1995 massacre that the tribunal confirmed constituted a genocide, that double-edged response was also apparent.

Nedžiba Salihović, whose father, husband and son were murdered, jumped to her feet the moment the life sentence was delivered.

But others said the verdict was all but meaningless in the face of the slaughter of more than 7,000 men and boys.

“Even if he lives 1,000 times and is sentenced 1,000 times to life in prison, justice would still not be served,” Ajsa Umirovic, who lost 42 relatives in the massacre, said.

Since the end of the war, Bosniak survivors have returned to the area and live alongside Serbs, with whom they share local government, but the uneasy cohabitation does not mean a shared view of history. Bosniaks say that they get along day by day with their Serb neighbours, as long as they do not mention what happened all around them in 1995.

Down the road from Srebrenica in Bratunac, posters were on display on Wednesday showing Mladić in his wartime uniform and describing him as a hero.

Denial of the atrocities committed by Mladic’s troops has become commonplace among the Bosnian Serb leadership.

Milorad Dodik, the leading politician in the Serb half of the country, Republika Srpska, claimed on Wednesday that the whole purpose of the Hague war crimes tribunal was to demonise Serbs and called on Serbs to “forever erase every mention” of the court proceedings from their school textbooks. The history of the war has anyway largely been ignored in the Bosnian Serb school syllabus.

In Serbia itself, the official reaction was more cagey. President Aleksandar Vučić, a former ultra-nationalist who is now seeking to strike a balance in relations with the EU and Russia, alleged that the court was biased against Serbs, but added: “We are ready to accept our responsibility [for war crimes] while the others are not.”

The trial should mark a turning point, Vučić said, bidding “farewell to all those who want to return us to the past; we want to go to the future”.

Vladan Dinić, the editor of Svedok magazine in Belgrade, said: “This puts an end to the court which, for a civil war in former Yugoslavia, sentenced Serbs to 12 centuries of prison, and Croats and Muslims to two centuries – with the latter being mostly convicted for the crimes against one another, not the Serbs.

“The consequence of the verdict will only be felt by Serbia and not Mladić , who due to ill health and the fact that he was denied the right to be seen by his doctors, probably will not be around for much longer.

“Today’s judgement is a milestone in the tribunal’s history and for international justice,” said ICTY chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz. “Mladic was one of the first persons to be indicted by this office and the last to be convicted.”

While often criticised for taking too long and accused by all sides of bowing to political pressure, some observers believe the ICTY has set a precedent for international justice.

“The judges took a lot of time to examine all the circumstances, all the facts, to hear hundreds of thousands of testimonies, and up to the end, we saw with the reaction of the accused, we saw how the tribunal tried to be impartial,” said Florence Bellivier, law professor at the University of Paris at Nanterre and deputy secretary general at the International Federation of Human Rights.

(The Guardian, RFI, 22.11.2017)


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