Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Judges at The Hague tribunal this week rejected a prosecution request to split the indictment against Ratko Mladic and hold two separate trials.
The prosecution had argued in August that trying Mladic first for his alleged role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, and then separately for crimes in Sarajevo and various Bosnian municipalities, would ensure “more effective” trial management than a single trial based on the current indictment.
In addition, the prosecution maintained that holding two separate trials would “better meet unforeseen contingencies” should Mladic’s health deteriorate, and “maximize the prospect of justice” for the victims. The Srebrenica trial should be held first, the prosecution argued, because of Mladic’s “alleged central role and responsibility” in those events.
The bench, however, disagreed on almost all points. They also noted that they did not consider Mladic’s health to be a factor in their decision because they never received any medical documentation to review themselves. This comes amid media reports that Mladic, 69, is suffering from pneumonia, though the court would only confirm that he is receiving medical treatment for an undisclosed condition.
Last week, during a status conference, Mladic complained of kidney stones and pain in his urethra, but vowed to “overcome” them so he could stand trial (See: Mladic "Fight to Overcome" Health Problems)
Since the accused was arrested on May 26 after 16 years as a fugitive, there has been intense speculation about the state of his health and his ability to live through a multi-year trial. His greatly aged appearance and slurred speech during court appearances has only exacerbated this speculation.
Many observers and victims fear that Mladic might not live through the lengthy proceedings, which is what happened to ex-Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, who died during his trial in 2006. As a result, a verdict in the Milosevic trial was never reached, and it is a scenario that no one wants to see repeated
The judges noted this concern in their decision, but said that if the prosecution’s argument is that “justice is better served by concluding with a judgement…of at least one smaller trial on some portion of the current counts, the chamber stresses that the parties must argue this clearly and directly in their submissions”.
The bench once again stated that they received no medical documentation on Mladic’s condition, and that they cannot base findings on “media reports or other such sources”.
Setting aside the topic of Mladic’s health, the bench still found that having two separate trials would infringe on the accused’s rights and create numerous logistical complications.
For example, the judges found that Mladic could be involved in “pre-trial preparations of one case while simultaneously participating in the judgement or appeal stage of the first trial” and that this could “overburden” the accused and “limit his ability to participate effectively in either”.
They also argued that holding two trials would actually be less efficient than having one large one, and in addition it might involve witnesses having to travel to The Hague multiple times.
Furthermore, the judges expressed concerns about what would happen if the same bench was assigned to both trials, and how this would affect “partiality and the appearance of partiality”.
However, the judges said there was nothing stopping the prosecution from making suggestions on how the trial could become “more manageable”.
The bench noted, as they have in court hearings, that there are incidents and municipalities included in the Mladic indictment that were removed from the indictment against Radovan Karadzic, who was the wartime Bosnian Serb president and Mladic’s superior. The charge sheet against both men is otherwise nearly identical.
“The chamber considers there is no reason to sever the…indictment and further considers that severance could prejudice the accused, could render the trials less manageable and less efficient, and risk unduly burdening witnesses,” the judges concluded.
Frederick Swinnen, a special adviser to the prosecutor, told IWPR that his office is still reviewing the decision and “considering what course of action, if any, it wishes to take”.
In other news this week, the bench also rejected a defence motion which argued that the current form of the indictment is “defective” because it doesn’t provide adequate identifying information about the victims. (See: Mladic Lawyer Makes Victims' Identity Plea)
The judges found that the current form of the indictment is appropriate given the charges and alleged responsibility of the accused, but ordered the prosecution to file a list with the victims’ identifying information by November 1.
Mladic will next appear in court on November 10.
The accused was arrested in Serbia on May 26 after 16 years as a fugitive and made his first appearance in The Hague on June 3. At a July 4 hearing, he was thrown out of the courtroom for interrupting judges and refusing to listen to the charges against him.
Mladic was the commander of the Bosnian Serb army from 1992 to 1996, and is alleged to have been responsible for some of the worst atrocities of the Bosnian war. These include the Srebrenica massacre, which resulted in the murder of some 8,000 Bosniak men and boys, as well as the shelling and sniping campaign against Sarajevo, which killed about 12,000 civilians.
He is also charged with crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible transfer in 23 municipalities across Bosnia.
Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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