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Bosnian Serb Genocide Suspect Mladic Faces UN Tribunal

  • RFE/RL

WATCH: War crimes defendant Ratko Mladic entered the Hague court on June 3 in a gray suit and cap, then dismissed its proceedings and refused to enter pleas on 11 counts of genocide and other atrocities. (Reuters video)


Bosnian Serb wartime army commander Ratko Mladic has declined to enter a plea in his first appearance before a UN war crimes tribunal, dismissing the genocide and war crimes indictments against him as "monstrous words" and "obnoxious charges."

Speaking during his arraignment hearing at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, Mladic said he needs more than the 30 days that are allowed to enter a plea so that he can fully study and understand the charges.

"I would like to receive what you've read out just now -- these obnoxious charges leveled against me," the 69-year-old Mladic, dressed in a gray suit and tie, told judges. "I want to read this properly, to give it some proper thought together with my lawyers because I need more than a month for these monstrous words -- the ones that I've never heard before, those that were included in this indictment."

Presiding judge Alphons Orie ruled that no good cause was shown to extend the deadline for Mladic's plea beyond 30 days. Instead, Orie set July 4 as the date for Mladic's next hearing. If Mladic refuses to enter a plea at that hearing, the judges will enter a not-guilty plea on his behalf.

Former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic gestures as he appears in court on June 3.

In opening words, Mladic described himself as "a gravely ill man" and said he hadn't read the "three binders" of documents he was given upon his arrival, nor had he signed anything.

Mladic told the court at the conclusion of the hearing that he hopes to live long enough to see the end of the trial, and that he expects to be set free. Mladic also said that he will be "defending my country and my people, and not Ratko Mladic."

Orie rejected that statement, reminding Mladic that he is charged as an individual before the tribunal and that his defense should focus on the charges brought against him.

Mladic waived his right to have the court read out the entire 37 pages of charges against him, saying, "I don't want not a single letter or sentence [from the indictment] to be read out to me."

'Butcher Of The Balkans'

Mladic is accused of masterminding the mass murder of nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995 -- the worst massacre in Europe since World War II.

He also is charged with orchestrating the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that began in May 1992 in which 10,000 people died.

IN PICTURES: Ratko Mladic during the 1992-95 conflict and his 16 years on the run:

Crimes against humanity charges against Mladic include orchestrating campaigns of extermination and murder, persecution, deportation, terror, inhumane acts, unlawful attacks, and the taking of hostages against Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats in 23 Bosnian municipalities from 1992 to 1995.

Mladic appeared impassive, stroking his face and chin, while Orie read a summary of the 11 indictments.

"According to the indictment, you, Ratko Mladic, are charged with genocide, crimes against humanity, and violations of the laws and customs of war under several modes of liability including joint-criminal enterprise," Orie said.

Significantly, the indictments -- which were revised this week by UN prosecutors -- link Mladic's case to the genocide and war crimes charges against Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic, whose ongoing trial at the Hague is taking place in the same building.

"According to the indictment, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic were key members of the over arching joint-criminal enterprise which lasted from at least October 1991 until the 30th of November 1995," Orie said.

Muslim women from Srebrenica, sitting in Tuzla under pictures of victims of the massacre of 8,000 men in the town during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, react as they watch the televised court appearance of Ratko Mladics on June 3.

Mladic was branded as "The Butcher of the Balkans" during the 1990s for a ruthless campaign to seize and allegedly "ethnically cleanse" territory for Serbs following the breakup of the Serb-dominated Yugoslav federation.

Serbian nationalists believe Mladic defended the nation and did no worse than Croat or Bosnian Muslim army commanders, as the federation was torn apart in conflict that claimed some 130,000 lives.

Other Serbs claimed the UN tribunal is biased against Mladic and Karadzic.

Belgrade resident Goran Petrovic told RFE/RL after watching today's hearing that he does not think it is possible for Mladic to receive a fair trial at the Hague court:

"I do not expect that he will be able to defend himself," Belgrade resident Goran Petrovic told RFE/RL after watching today's hearing. "The whole world is putting him under great pressure and even if he proves that he is not guilty, he will be convicted."

Others saw the trial as an opportunity for ordinary Serbs to clear their names and stop taking the blame for war crimes committed by previous regimes.

"I believe [the trial] is of crucial importance for Serbia and for Republika Srpska," resident Milos Arsic told RFE/RL. "We should in this way prove that Serbia was not directly involved in war crimes -- not only in Srebrenica but in Bosnia. It was the former government who supported everything that happened there."

Axel Hageldoorn, a lawyer representing the families of Srebrenica victims, said it was "a big relief" that Mladic is finally being brought to court for trial. But he said families of victims also are concerned that Mladic is too sick to survive a lengthy trial and that, as was the case with Milosevic, there will be no final verdict.

Mladic was arrested in a Serb village last week, nearly 16 years after he was indicted by the UN court. He was extradited to the Hague on May 31, after Serbian judges denied his appeal on health grounds and found him fit to stand trial.

Mladic reportedly suffered a stroke during his 16 years in hiding and is paralyzed in one arm.

A man in Belgrade, Serbia, watches a televised broadcast of Ratko Mladic's June 3 court appearance.

Milos Saljic, the lawyer who represented Mladic in Belgrade following his arrest, said Mladic also received surgery and chemotherapy in 2009 to treat him for cancer. But some Serbian officials have expressed doubts about that claim.

Snezana Malovic , the Serbian justice minister who signed the decision to extradite Mladic, said she thinks he Mladic will receive all the care he needs at a special detention facility within the Scheveningen prison a short distance from the Hague court.

"I believe that he will receive adequate health care in prison in Scheveningen, and according to what we have seen when he arrived at detention unit of the special court, he received adequate health care," Malovic said. "But it is my private opinion, because it is a health issue."

Members of an official Bosnia-Herzegonian delegation visited the Memorial Center Potocari on June 1 and laid flowers to the Bosniaks killed at Srebrenica.

Survivors of the 1992-1995 Bosnia war were gathered outside the Hague courtroom today to follow the start of the criminal proceedings against Mladic. They appeared stunned and angry when Mladic described the charges against him as "obnoxious" and "monstrous words."

In Tuzla, RFE/RL correspondents spoke with the mothers of Bosnian children who were victims of the mass killings that Mladic is accused of orchestrating during the 1992-1995 war.

"At this moment, my thoughts are with my killed child," said Fatima Mujic. "Mladic pretends to look as if he is a nice person, but I know he is bad man. I can see that his health is not bad at all. He would do the same thing if he had an opportunity to do so to do so."

Another victim's mother, Bahra Hasanovic told RFE/RL that Mladic was not a proper military general, but rather a man promoted to a high position because of his willingness to commit mass murder and carry out a program of ethnic cleansing:

"What kind of 'general' is he?" she said. "A real general would not have killed so many people. He is a villain and he is not worth my two golden sons. There are thousands mothers like me. I'm not alone. I lost four brothers. And now, look how is he shivering [in the court room]."

Relatives of Srebrenica massacre victims also gathered in the Bosnia-Herzegovina capital to watch the televised broadcast of the Mladic's first appearance before the UN war crimes court.

The ongoing trial of Karadzic, who shared an ICTY war crimes indictment with Mladic, was continuing in another Hague courtroom as Mladic's arraignment got under way.

written by Ron Synovitz based on RFE/RL and other reports