Former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic — branded the “Butcher of Bosnia” — was sentenced Wednesday by a United Nations tribunal to life in prison for war crimes and genocide committed during the 1990s.
The tribunal in the Netherlands found Mladic guilty on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, more than 20 years after fighting that devastated Bosnia.
Mladic, chief of staff for Bosnian Serb forces from 1992 until 1996, faced 11 total charges — two for genocide, five for crimes against humanity and four for violations of the laws or customs of war. He was convicted on all counts Wednesday, except for one of the genocide charges.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said the conviction was a “momentous victory for justice” and called Mladic the “epitome of evil.”
“Mladic presided over some of the darkest crimes to occur in Europe since World War II, bringing terror, death and destruction to thousands of victims, and sorrow, tragedy and trauma to countless more,” Al Hussein said. “His conviction is a testament to the courage and determination of those victims and witnesses who never gave up hope that they would see him brought to justice.”
Mladic was not present in the courtroom when the verdict was read Wednesday. He’d been removed minutes earlier after standing to shout, “this is all lies!”
The charges stemmed from accusations of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, attacks on civilians in Sarajevo and a massacre of about 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995 — which was considered the deadliest atrocity in Europe since the end of World War II.
Judge Alphons Orie dismissed claims from Mladic’s lawyers that said the former commander was of “good character,” and instead said his actions “rank among the most heinous known to humankind and include genocide and extermination.”
Mladic was an international fugitive from the turn of the century until 2011, when he was captured in northern Serbia. His trial lasted for 530 days, making it one of the most significant European war crimes cases since the infamous Nuremberg tribunal.
At the close of the prosecution’s case last year, prosecutor Alan Tieger said, “The time has come for Ratko Mladic to be held accountable for each of his victims and all the communities he destroyed.
“Nobody can even imagine the depth of suffering for which Mladic is responsible.”
The Bosnian War lasted between 1992 and 1995 and led to the deaths of about 100,000 soldiers and civilians. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic was tried on war crimes at the same Hague tribunal, but died of a heart attack in 2006 before it was concluded.
By Sara Shayanian