The Bosnian Serb former general, Ratko Mladic, who came to prominence in the Yugoslav Wars, was convicted at the first instance court in the Hague of 10 of the 11 charges and sentenced to life imprisonment -the maximum sentence the particular court can impose- but reactions in Bosnia and Herzegovina where he, as the court concluded, committed the worst war crimes after WWII, vary a lot depending on who is commenting on the case.
International organisations see the verdict as a chance for Bosnia and Herzegovina to leave behind a very hard period of its history and continue towards a better future.
“Crimes committed under Ratko Mladic’s command, including genocide, brought enormous pain and suffering to everyone in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the consequences of which will be felt for many generations. The direct victims and survivors of these crimes serve as a constant reminder of why the ICTY was created, why its work is so important, and why justice is crucial to the healing processes of the entire society. I understand that for the victims and survivors, the wait for justice seemed too long, but I hope this verdict will provide them with some sense of closure and some sense of justice, because the need for justice and closure is timeless and universal,” stated international community High Representative to BiH, Valentin Inzko.
He also called upon all authorities and citizens in BiH to show respect to the verdict and refrain from politicising it. Inzko emphasised that there are no bad nations, only bad individuals.
“I hope therefore that everyone will take this opportunity to recommit themselves to the reconciliation process. Justice does not per se bring reconciliation, but it is an essential first step in the quest for a shared understanding of the past and finding the full truth of the events from July 1995. This understanding is the path towards a secure and peaceful future,” concluded the High Representative in a written statement to the media.
The U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo views the verdict as an important step toward holding to account those individuals responsible for the tremendous suffering of the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Among other crimes, Mladic was found guilty of genocide in Srebrenica in 1995, of crimes against humanity and of persecution across the country, terrorizing the population of Sarajevo, and taking UN peacekeepers hostage.
“We hope this decision can provide some sense of justice and closure to victims and their families. We urge all parties to respect the court’s verdict, and rededicate themselves to the continued reconciliation and peaceful coexistence essential to the future of a stable, secure Bosnia and Herzegovina that safeguards the rights of all its citizens,” read the U.S. Embassy press release.
The EU reacted by saying that the Union considers that delivering justice and fighting impunity for the most horrific crimes is a fundamental human obligation.
“Our sympathies are with those who survived and those who lost their loved ones. While we don’t comment individual judgements, we fully respect the decisions of the ICTY and support its work. We strongly reiterate the need for full cooperation with ICTY as well as its successor Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals,” the EU said.
Many politicians in the Federation of BiH regret that Mladic was not found guilty of genocide in Prijedor and six other places. This would mean that genocide against Bosniaks (Muslims) in the Republic of Srpska begun in 1992 and would be where the entity’s dissolution could be based on. The Leader of the Movement for a Better Future in BiH, Fahrudin Radoncic, said that he “truly regrets that the capital punishment does not exist in the Hague (Tribunal)”.
Life imprisonment is the right sentence for Mladic, agrees the majority of the Bosniak political leaders and members of victims’ families. Some of them said that the bad thing is that he was hiding for such a long time and, in fact, spent the greatest part of his life free, in Serbia.
On the other side, as it was expected, Republic of Srpska politicians and officials are bitter about the verdict, saying that the Hague Tribunal confirmed that it was established to judge members of the Serbian nation and to hide war crimes against the Serbs committed in many places in BiH. These crimes, as they said, were committed by the Army of the Republic of BiH (AR BiH), under the command of officers directly under the former President of the country, Alija Izetbegovic, father of Bakir Izetbegovic, who is a member of the BiH Presidency and leader of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA).
The Serb member of the BiH Presidency, Mladen Ivanic, said to the media that he did not expect any different verdict for Mladic than the life sentence. He recalled that, so far, the Hague Tribunal has pronounced five life sentences to Serbs totalling 758 years in all, 166 years’ imprisonment for Croats and only 41.5 years’ imprisonment for Bosniaks.
“When you look at these hundreds of years handed down to the Serbs and add to that the information that the Hague Tribunal has so far issued only 50 years’ imprisonment for all the crimes against Serbs – there is nothing more to say about the degree they ‘dislike’ the Serbs”, Ivanic said.
He said that RS’s support to Mladic should never cease and that he should be given maximum assistance during the appeal procedure. The verdict on Mladic, as Ivanic said, shows continuing negative treatment of Serbs and that the Hague Tribunal will be remembered as a court which did not administer justice, but rather played a political role, added Ivanic.
“The Hague Tribunal has brought mistrust instead of trust, and instead of reconciliation it will lead to fresh political conflicts,” said Ivanic, adding that RS would continue to function and remain a guarantor of the survival of Serbs in BiH. To Bosniak politicians, Ivanic sent the message that any attempt to bring RS under question will fail and that Serbian people have enough ways to defend their positions and institutions.
RS President, Milorad Dodik, said that the life sentence for Mladic “is not a verdict for the entire RS, its army and the Serbian people.” He called for a national gathering across RS and Serbia, as well as around national and national values, because, as he says, “it is impossible to count on international objectivity, not only the judicial, but also political, which, due to its political influence, decided to rule this way in The Hague Tribunal”.
Dodik stated that, despite the verdict, RS must find inner strength and move on.
“We need to fight for RS and its statehood. The idea that emerged back in 1992, has been strongly re-shaped in recent years. RS must be a ‘gathering place’ for all Serbs either engaged in politics or not,” stated Dodik.
Emphasising that this is only the first-instance verdict for Mladic, Dodik added that there is no place for optimism for the second instance one.
Mirko Sarovic, vice-chair of the Serb Democratic Party’s (SDS) Main Board, says the first-instance verdict by the Hague Tribunal will stir up the scene in BiH.
“I am disappointed because I was expecting a different decision. It is not the final one and it is not binding and it will basically cause commotion in BiH and will not contribute to what the Hague Tribunal has bee established for, and that is reconciliation in the country,” Sarovic said.
He believes everyone within BiH will take one of the two sides – one in RS, where the majority will express a negative attitude towards the Tribunal’s judgement, and another in BiH where people will comment the verdict from a different point of view…/IBNA