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Mladic Lawyer Argues for Charges to be Dropped

Defence lawyer asks judges to consider dropping individual charges, rather than only acquitting defendant due to lack of evidence to support entire counts.
By Rachel Irwin
  • Dragan Ivetic, defence lawyer in the Mladic case at the ICTY. (Photo: ICTY)
    Dragan Ivetic, defence lawyer in the Mladic case at the ICTY. (Photo: ICTY)

Ratko Mladic’s defence lawyer argued this week that his client should be acquitted of several charges in the indictment against him on the grounds that the prosecution has failed to prove them.

The defence lawyer, Dragan Ivetic, made his arguments during a process that takes place under the tribunal's Rule 98 bis. According to this rule, at the end of the prosecution’s case, the chamber can enter a “judgement of acquittal on any count if there is no evidence capable of supporting a conviction”.

“The interests of justice do not limit themselves to victim’s justice, but also to the rights of the accused,” Ivetic said at a March 17 hearing. “The [tribunal’s] slogan may be ‘Bringing war criminals to justice and justice to victims’, but the accused is innocent until proven guilty and it follows that if guilt cannot be proved, then accused must be acquitted.”

Prosecutors allege that Mladic, the commander of the Bosnian Serb army from 1992 to 1996, is 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”.

He is accused of planning and overseeing the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that left nearly 12,000 people dead, as well as the massacre of more than 7,000 men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995.

Ivetic argued that the chamber should drop individual charges and incidents from the indictment, rather than only acquitting Mladic if there is no evidence to support entire counts.

“Maintaining charges that have no prospect of success extends the conclusion of the trial and increases the strain on General Mladic unnecessarily,” Ivetic said.

He listed several specific incidents in the indictment, including one that is part of the genocide count relating to the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. The prosecution alleges that Mladic is responsible for the killing of “about 15 Bosnian Muslim men in an isolated area on the bank of the Jadar River” on July 13, 1995.

Ivetic said the evidence “cannot support the conclusion” that the Bosnian Serb army was responsible for these deaths “let alone [that it was] acting under the orders of General Mladic.” He further claimed that the sole witness to testify in support of the prosecution’s case “collapsed under cross-examination”.

He also challenged the allegation that Mladic had effective control over certain paramilitary units – with whom he is alleged to have participated in a joint criminal enterprise – who were committing mass crimes against non-Serb civilians. Ivetic argued that Mladic actually issued orders calling for the disarmament of these units on more than one occasion.

“The prosecution has not adduced any proper evidence that General Mladic issued any criminal orders to individuals who are alleged to have been perpetrators of crimes in the indictment,” Ivetic said.

As for the charge that Mladic “failed to initiate investigations into credible allegations of crimes by Serb forces under his control,” Ivetic contended that just because the “accused was in a position of authority cannot lead to the automatic presumption that he knew or had reason to know of crimes of which a conviction is sought”.

The lawyer further stated that despite the two counts of genocide in the indictment, Mladic never harboured the specific genocidal intent needed to secure a conviction.

Ivetic noted that other cases at the tribunal had attempted to prove genocide in municipalities outside Srebrenica, but had never succeeded in doing it.

“There is no evidence that General Mladic harboured specific genocidal intent,” he reiterated.

In response to Ivetic’s arguments, prosecuting lawyer Dermot Groome argued that the defence request should be denied in its entirety, and that during its case the prosecution has “tendered, and the chamber has admitted, the evidence of over 360 witnesses and approximately 5,200 exhibits. This corpus of evidence establishes clearly and unequivocally each of the crimes enumerated in the indictment, the role General Mladic played in those crimes, and his criminal liability for them.”

Groome said that despite the defence’s assertions, “the evidence demonstrates that between May 12, 1992 and November 30, 1995, Mladic was a pivotal figure in an overarching criminal plan. The aim of the plan was forcible and permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb claimed territory. Put simply, the aim was ethnic cleansing.”

According to Groome, “the prosecution has never relied on Mladic’s formal role as its strongest evidence of culpability. Mladic contributed to the common purpose of overarching Joint Criminal Enterprise [JCE] primarily through his authority and his ability to engage the armed forces under his command in the commission of crimes,” Groome said.

In further submissions, prosecuting lawyer Arthur Traldi stated that Mladic “demonstrated that he fundamentally shared in the common criminal purpose of JCE”. During a wartime interview, Traldi said Mladic called for taking “back territory that Muslims took during World War II.”

As commander of the army’s main staff, Mladic’s orders “drove the JCE forward” and he continually received “information about how those orders were carried out”.

In response to the defence contention that Mladic “did not know or have reason to know” about crimes being committed, Traldi argued that Mladic was “extensively informed” and his subordinate corps “often reported about ethnic cleansing operations”.

“Indeed, [Bosnian Serb army] officers sometimes complained that civilian authorities were not efficient enough in removing non-Serbs from municipalities,” Traldi said.

The judges will deliver their decision on Mladic’s request in due course.

Rachel Irwin is IWPR’s Senior Reporter in The Hague.

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