A United Nations court in The Hague has rejected an appeal by former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic against his life sentence for his role in Europe's worst atrocities since the end of World War II.
The International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) handed down the verdict during a court session on June 8 that was closed to journalists due to coronavirus restrictions.
"The Appeals Chamber dismissed the Prosecution's appeal in its entirety," a written summary of the appeals judgment said, adding, "The Appeals Chamber affirmed the sentence of life imprisonment imposed on Mr. Mladic by the Trial Chamber."
The judgment means the 79-year-old former general who terrorized Bosnia throughout the war will spend the rest of his life in prison. He is the last major figure from the conflict that ended more than a quarter century ago to face justice.
The ruling ends the case against the man dubbed the “Butcher of Bosnia” who had challenged his 2017 conviction for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed during Bosnia-Herzegovina's 1992-95 war.
These atrocities included the massacre in and around the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica in mid-1995 when some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered by Bosnian Serb forces.
Mladic has maintained his innocence throughout the legal process.
The appeal case has been repeatedly delayed by his ill health and, more recently, by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The international community and Bosnian Muslims hailed the verdict as a victory for international justice.
"This historic judgment shows that those who commit horrific crimes will be held accountable," U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement. "It also reinforces our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world."
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres thanked the judges and those involved in the trial for their commitment and hard work.
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the ruling "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."
European Council President Charles Michel said the verdict is another important step to provide justice to the victims.
"It will help us all put the painful past behind us and to put the future first," Michel tweeted.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell welcomed the verdict as an opportunity for leaders in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the region to back an environment of reconciliation to leave the legacy of war behind and build a lasting peace.
"Domestic and international courts in Bosnia and Herzegovina and neighboring countries should continue their mission of ensuring justice for victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and their families. Crime should not go unpunished," Borrell said in a statement.
The Croat representative in Bosnia's tripartite presidency, Zeljko Komsic, said it is clear that the political and military leadership of the Republika Srpska at that time had a goal to create an ethnically cleansed Bosnia and Herzegovina."
Bosnian Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic welcomed the verdict.
“I believe this will be an opportunity for the Republika Srpska representatives who deny genocide to accept the truth, to reject criminal ideologies, symbols, and politics, and turn to a European future.”
Nationalist Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, who is the Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, blasted the ruling as an impediment to reconciliation.
"This goal to reconcile people is a delusion," Dodik said, adding, "By making this decision, The Hague tribunal has contributed even more to mistrust among [Bosnia's] nations."
His opinion was echoed by Republika Srpska President Zeljko Cvijanovic, who called the international tribunal "The Hague Inquisition" and said the ruling “confirmed the role of an anti-Serb court which does not establish responsibility for war crimes based on evidence, but on the nationality of the acused.”
Mladic's son, Darko, said his father “didn’t have a chance for a fair trial."
Relatives of the Srebrenica massacre victims acknowledged the court's ruling, but didn't voice satisfaction.
"When we look at the white tombstones, mothers who have lost their children can never be satisfied," Sahida Abdurahmanovic, who lost her husband in the massacre," told RFE/RL.
"Thank God that this moment occurred," Emina Pasic, who lost her father and two brothers at Srebrenica, told RFE/RL. "Justice was not served, but thank you to everyone who was with us."
Mladic's political chief during the Bosnian War, Radovan Karadzic, is serving a life sentence for genocide.
Serbian strongman President Slobodan Milosevic died of a heart attack in his cell in The Hague in 2006 before his trial had finished.
The IRMCT deals with cases left over from now disbanded international war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.