Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Ratko Mladic in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)
Former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic this week refused to testify on behalf of his wartime superior Radovan Karadzic and repeatedly stated that he did not recognise the “satanic” Hague tribunal.
The January 28 court hearing began with Mladic’s lawyer Branko Lukic imploring judges not to force his client to testify. Lukic cited Mladic’s poor health and the fact that he is currently standing trial under an indictment nearly identical to Karadzic’s.
The lawyer said Mladic, 71, had suffered multiple strokes and now had a condition he called “deception of memory” which caused him to “make up facts and believe them to be the truth”.
“If he was able to testify, he would do so in his own case, but he can’t…. Forcing him is a nullification of his right to remain silent,” Lukic said.
Lukic also argued that his client should be formally examined by a team of medical experts.
Peter Robinson, Karadzic’s legal advisor, responded by saying that all of Lukic’s arguments “had been ruled on” already.
“Dr Karadzic believes that General Mladic is the one person who knows best in the whole world” what happened during the war in Bosnia and “he asks that Mladic do his best”, the lawyer said.
Both Karadzic and Mladic are alleged to be responsible for crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible transfer which “contributed to achieving the objective of the permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory”.
They are both charged with planning and overseeing the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, during which more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were murdered, and the 44-month siege of Sarajevo, which left some 12,000 dead.
During the war, Karadzic was president of the self-declared Republika Srpska entity and Mladic commanded his army. Both men were fugitives for several years before being arrested in 2008 and 2011, respectively.
Mladic’s presence in the courtroom was the result of a subpoena requested by Karadzic and finally granted in December.
Mladic’s defence responded with a flurry of requests asking judges to reconsider their decision, but they declined to do so. (See Mladic Subpoenaed as Karadzic Defence Witness and Mladic Lawyers Fight Karadzic Subpoena.)
At this week’s hearing, presiding Judge O-Gon Kwon stated that Lukic’s arguments had already been “sufficiently dealt with” in previous decisions on the matter.
“Further medical assessment is not required”, Judge Kwon said, because “there is nothing to suggest any new developments” that diverge from information already in the court’s possession.
The judge then instructed Mladic to rise and be sworn in.
Mladic stood up and grimaced.
“Mr Kwon, ladies and gentlemen, as for this court, I cannot stand it, I don’t recognise it, I cannot take the oath,” he said.
He said he had written a seven-page statement which he wanted to read aloud.
“I contributed to some good, and I don’t want this trial to fail,” Mladic said, but then began wagging his finger at the bench.
“I do not recognise this Hague court, it’s a satanic court,” he continued, before Judge Kwon interjected.
“I’m cutting you off. As you know, we have our rules, so I recommend you take the [oath],” the judge said, adding that Mladic would not be allowed to read the document he had prepared.
Mladic argued that it was not a “document”, but his statement. Judge Kwon then warned him that if he refused to take the oath, he could be held in contempt of court.
“Mr Kwon, you are considerably younger than me. You’re exerting pressure. My conscience is clear on all matters. Your platitudes and your false indictments – I don’t care. I do not recognise this court,” Mladic reiterated.
The judge turned to defence lawyer Lukic and said “it’s clear that Mladic is refusing”.
Mladic then smiled and spoke up again.
“Don’t be nervous, Mr Kwon, you’re from Korea. Warning bells are ringing there, too,” he said.
Mladic then quickly read the oath aloud.
But then he asked, “Can the security people please bring my teeth from the cell so I can speak better?”
Judge Kwon inquired whether Mladic was willing to testify if his dentures were located and brought to him.
“Yes, because I haven’t got my teeth now,” Mladic replied.
After a break of about 30 minutes, Mladic returned to the stand.
Judge Kwon reminded him of his rights under tribunal rule 90e, which states that a witness “may object to making any statement which might tend to incriminate [him or her]. The chamber may, however, compel the witness to answer the question. Testimony compelled in this way shall not be used as evidence in subsequent prosecution against the witness for any offence other than false testimony.”
“Do you understand?” Judge Kwon asked.
“I understand, Comrade Kwon,” Mladic replied.
Karadzic – who represents himself – then told Mladic that he could read the statement he had prepared. Judge Kwon once again said no to this, adding that it “wouldn’t be conducive” to establishing the truth.
Karadzic proceeded with the first of his six questions, asking, “What positions have you held during your military career?”
Mladic began to explain the trajectory of his career, starting from 1965, but then he suddenly said he “could not and did not wish” to testify, “for reasons that my health may be impaired and because of my rights”.
“I am not defending myself, you are not defending yourself – we are defending our people,” he said to Karadzic.
The judges huddled together for a few minutes to discuss the situation, and Judge Kwon then announced that the “chamber has decided not to compel the witness despite the protection of rule 90e because of the rights of an accused” currently standing trial.
Karadzic moved on to his next question. “Did you ever inform me, either orally or in writing, that prisoners from Srebrenica would be, were being, or had been executed?” he asked.
Mladic again refused to answer, and the judges declined to compel him to. The same scenario played out four more times. The prosecution did not conduct a cross-examination.
After Judge Kwon told Mladic that his testimony was complete, he “thanked” the bench for preventing him from reading his statement.
“This confirms my thesis that this is not a court of justice but a satanic court,” Mladic said.
As he was led out of the courtroom by security guards, he continued talking excitedly, and gave his apologies to Karadzic.
“Radovan, thank you – sorry, please excuse me, they don’t let me; they defend NATO,” he said.
Rachel Irwin is IWPR’s Senior Reporter in The Hague.
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