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Custody for Ex-General Pending Extradition Process
Ratko Mladic arriving at a Belgrade court for his extradition hearing, May 26. (Photo: Serbian government website)
Ratko Mladic, the wartime commander of the Bosnian Serb military, appeared in a Belgrade court on May 27 for a hearing on whether he will be extradited to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, in The Hague.
The hearing had been adjourned from the previous evening, when Mladic was brought before Serbia’s Special Court, hours after he was arrested by intelligence officers and police in the village of Lazarevo in northern Serbia.
In his first appearance, the former general, now white-haired, seemed to be walking with difficulty as he arrived at the courtroom under police escort. Before entering, he complimented the men standing guard outside the court, saying they were “just like my army”.
Less than an hour later, his lawyer Milos Saljic came out and told waiting reporters that Milan Dilparic, investigating judge with the War Crimes Department of the Belgrade High Court, had adjourned the hearing because the detainee was in poor mental and physical shape. According to Saljic, the judge tried to talk to Mladic, but the latter spoke about tangential matters and failed to answer his questions.
However, Saljic said Mladic was aware that he had been arrested and knew where he was. During the hearing, he said, the accused man said he did not recognise the Hague tribunal.
Before the hearing resumed on May 27, Mladic was visited by his wife Bosiljka and son Darko – their first meeting in ten years, according to the lawyer.
When the hearing resumed, the judge was due to read out the ICTY indictment on which the extradition case is based, but Mladic refused to be served with it. Nevertheless, the court found that the legal requirements for extradition had been met, and Mladic was placed in custody pending further procedures, which officials say could take seven days.
Deputy war crimes prosecutor Bruno Vekaric said Mladic could appeal against extradition.
The indictment accuses the former general of genocide in Srebrenica in July 1995, when around 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed by Serb forces, and of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war between 1992 and 1996.
Meanwhile, more details emerged of the circumstances of the arrest itself. In the course of the early morning operation, ordered by Serbia’s war crimes prosecutor, the security forces searched four houses in Lazarevo that reportedly belonged to cousins of Mladic, and found him in one of them. The owner, his cousin Branko Mladic, was arrested as well, but released later in the day.
Lawyer Saljic said Mladic had two sidearms on his person but opted not to use them because the arresting officers were “someone’s children”.
Contrary to early media reports, Mladic did not have a beard or any form of disguise. He looked pale, appeared to have little motion in his right arm, and moved with difficulty. Another report, that Mladic gave an assumed name, was denied by Serbian interior minister Ivica Dacic, who said the detained man had a genuine, albeit expired, ID document.
Despite the interior minister’s appeal for calm, anger at the arrest spilled into the streets. Around 200 protesters gathered on Belgrade’s Republic Square on the evening of May 26. Police dispersed one group of about 50.
Security forces were deployed to prevent any trouble outside the presidential office, government, parliament, city assembly and the national broadcaster.
In Novi Sad in the northern province of Vojvodina, some 500 attended a demonstration, shouting slogans like “Stand up, Serbia” and “rebellion”, and urging President Boris Tadic to “save Serbia and kill yourself”. Rubbish bins were set on fire in the town centre.
Police intervened to halt a fight which broke out after protesters made a failed attempt to enter the premises of Vojvodina Radio and TV. Stones were later thrown at the local office of the ruling Democratic Party, breaking a few windows, after which police emerged and dispersed the crowd.
In Lazarevo, some villagers said they wanted to rename their village after Mladic and to put up a plaque at the place where he was captured saying, “War hero Ratko Mladic lived in this house”.
President Tadic has pinned his colours firmly to the mast, saying Mladic’s detention put an end to allegations that Serbia was not cooperating with the ICTY and was reluctant to arrest suspects. He said the Serbian authorities would track down the one remaining fugitive, Goran Hadzic.
“We have concluded a difficult phase in our history, and removed a stain from members of the Serbian nation wherever they live,” he said.
After Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic was detained in 2008, Mladic was the last top-level suspect on the run, and the failure to apprehend him was an obstacle that prevented Serbia moving towards joining the European Union. Tadic said the arrest cleared the way for this to happen.
Natasa Kandic, director of the Humanitarian Law Centre in Belgrade, praised the president’s bold stand on this sensitive issue.
“The fact that President Tadic personally informed the media of Mladic’s arrest and said he was proud of it will help reconciliation in the region,” she said.
Opposition parties in Serbia were in the main critical of the arrest of a man still seen by some as a great wartime commander.
The nationalist Serbian Radical Party condemned “the treacherous regime of Boris Tadic which delivers Serb heroes to The Hague”, and which it said had “totally humiliated” the country by obeying the terms set by the EU and Washington.
Aleksander Roknic is an IWPR-trained reporter in Belgrade.
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