Ratko Mladic Arraigned at the Hague Court for War Crimes
THE HAGUE — Ratko Mladic made his long-awaited appearance on Friday here before an international court that has accused him of genocide and multiple other atrocities and dismissed the charges read out to him as “obnoxious” and “monstrous” as MARLISE SIMONS and DAVID JOLLY reported with The New York Times.
At times rubbing his face, or showing a mocking smile, the former Bosnian Serb general, one of Europe’s most wanted men for almost 16 years, was now flanked by two guards who assisted him as he shuffled into court and helped into his chair. Asked if he wanted to hear the charges against him, he said, “I do not want a single letter or sentence of that indictment read to me.”
But he was given no choice as the presiding judge, Alphons Orie of the Netherlands, proceeded to summarize the 11 counts of crimes against him, a grave list recounting the violence of troops under his command during the 1992-96 Bosnian war.
Mr. Mladic appeared most interested in his health. Just moments into the 90-minute hearing he said, “I am a gravely ill man,” and later had a long exchange with the judge about his ailments. He requested more time before he would enter a plea, and the judge ordered him to return to court on July 4.
“Ratko Mladic knew, or had reason to know,” that war crimes were being committed by the army under his command, Judge Orie said, including the siege of Sarajevo and the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica. He described Mr. Mladic, along with the former Bosnian Serb president, Radovan Karadzic, as having been involved in “a criminal enterprise,” responsible for terrorism, attacks on civilians and murder. Mr. Karadzic is also on trial before the court.
After going into a closed session for Mr. Mladic to discuss his health, the court reconvened briefly, and Judge Orie asked Mr. Mladic if there were anything about the conditions of his detention to which he objected. Mr. Mladic replied: “I defended my country, not Ratko Mladic. I did not kill anyone in Libya or Africa.”
“I want to live to see that I am a free man,” he added. He also complained that he did not want “to be held and helped to walk as if I was a blind man,” apparently a reference to the close police custody in which he has found himself.
Mr. Mladic, 69, was transferred to The Hague on Tuesday from Belgrade, Serbia, following his arrest after 16 years in hiding. He appeared in court wearing a gray suit, frail and much diminished from the burly figure seen in news reports from the mid-1990s.
Before he was transferred, his lawyers said that he had been treated for strokes, heart attacks and other illnesses and that he was too sick to stand trial.
For the tribunal’s international staff members, who have seen wanted posters with the former general’s picture for most of their years here, Friday’s hearing was an extraordinary moment. Some said it was perhaps most akin to the arrival of the former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, who died here in his cell before the end of his four-year trial. Both men had become legendary for brutality in different ways, both exuding gruff power, even though it was Mr. Milosevic who gave most of the orders and released most of the money for the Bosnian war.
The arrival of the penultimate fugitive — only one, Goran Hadzic, a former leader of rebel Serbs in Croatia, is still missing — is expected to extend the life of the tribunal by several years. Created by the United Nations Security Council in 1993 to deal with war crimes cases stemming from the breakup of Yugoslavia, the tribunal had been scheduled to close in 2014.
Given the time it will take for Mr. Mladic and his lawyers to prepare themselves to face the charges, the start of the trial is not expected for months. Prosecutors were debating whether to break out one or several segments from the indictment, which encompasses four broad sets of crimes: the violent campaign in 1992 to drive non-Serbs from large parts of Bosnia to create a region for Serbs only, the shelling and sniping during the 44-month-long siege of Sarajevo, the Srebrenica massacre and taking Dutch troops from the United Nations peacekeeping force as hostages before overrunning Srebrenica.
Serge Brammertz, the lead prosecutor for the tribunal, said this week that Mr. Mladic “has come late, but not too late.” If anything, tribunal lawyers say, after the long wait it may be easier for the prosecution to try him now than if had arrived a decade earlier.
The war that broke up Yugoslavia involved other regions, but what became known as the “ethnic cleansing” campaigns of Bosnia became its overriding nightmare. Much evidence has been amassed and tested in trials involving events which Mr. Mladic had ordered or for which he was responsible as commander. Two of his right-hand men have received life sentences — the tribunal’s maximum sentence — for their role in the Srebrenica massacre. Two other of his senior officers received life sentences for their role in the siege of Sarajevo, in which about 10,000 people died. Other underlings of the general have also been tried and given a range of prison sentences.
In addition to extensive film footage that puts Mr. Mladic at the scene at the time of military action, the tribunal last year received the contents of a secret cache found in his Belgrade home. The cache included recordings of Mr. Mladic’s voice made during meetings and telephone calls, and, most surprising to investigatorshis military wartime diaries, adding up to 4,000 pages.
mid this great volume of material, the challenge for the prosecution will be to create a manageable trial given Mr. Mladic’s age and the risks that his health may deteriorate during long proceedings. In Belgrade, Mr. Mladic’s lawyers had unsuccessfully argued that he was too physically and mentally frail to stand trial at all. They said he had suffered two heart attacks and three strokes in recent years. But their pleas were dismissed after Serbian doctors declared him fit enough.
Prosecutors have recently revised and updated the Mladic indictment to incorporate new evidence and to bring it broadly in line with that of Mr. Karadzic, the Bosnia Serb political leader, because the wartime trajectory of the two men was so deeply intertwined.
For both men, the counts of crime were reduced to 11 from 15, but the scope of the charges remains the same. They face two counts of genocide; three counts of extermination and murder; two counts of deportation; two counts of terror and unlawful attacks; one count of persecution; and one count of hostage-taking, in the seizing of more than 200 United Nations peacekeepers and military observers.
One option now being studied is to start Mr. Mladic’s proceedings with the Srebrenica massacre and try him just for that segment together with Mr. Karadzic. The Karadzic trial began 18 months ago and has already heard more than 70 witnesses linked to the Sarajevo siege and the abduction of peacekeepers.
Both men have already denied responsibility for the Srebrenica slaughter and said the dead being dug up from the many graves were war casualties. But denial has become harder as mass graves continue to produce remains of people, shot from behind, with their hands tied behind their backs. DNA tests have identified close to 6,600 missing from the fall of Srebrenica, according to the latest figures from the International Commission on Missing Persons.
Geoffrey Nice, the lead prosecutor of Mr. Milosevic, said he believed that trying Mr. Mladic could be achieved relatively quickly. Trying a military commander would be less complex than trying a political leader whose criminal responsibility may require proof that he “knew or had reason to know” of crimes a great distance away.
Mr. Nice was among a number of experts who in recent days have called to confine the Mr. Mladic case initially to Srebrenica and to postpone other charges.
“Srebrenica is such a grave offense, that, if proved, just that would clearly be sufficient to obtain a sentence,” he said. Limiting the trial to that, for a start, “would probably be wise, especially in view of Mladic’s age and health,” he said.
A decision by the judges to try the two men at the same time can be fought by Mr. Mladic or Mr. Karadzic themselves, who may not find it in their interest. “Probably a strong defense argument for either one would be that the other bears greater responsibility,” said Eric Gordy, an expert in international law.
Peter Robertson, the legal adviser to Mr. Karadzic, who acts as his own lawyer, said there were “pros and cons to a joint trial.”
“Dr. Karadzic has not yet decided,” he said. “He thought it would be best to discuss this with Mladic.”
At the tribunal, there appears little doubt that the transfer of Mr. Mladic, despite Serbian opinion polls broadly opposing such a move, was the result of a cost-benefit analysis by President Boris Tadic’s government in Serbia. Little was said in Serbia about the victims of the crimes Mr. Mladic is accused of orchestrating, or about the notion of justice. Rather, a great deal of emphasis was placed on the need for the arrest as opening the road to membership of the European Union. Politicians openly demanded rewards, namely the aid that would flow to Serbia even in early stages of the talks.