Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Ratko Mladic escorted out of the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)
Ratko Mladic was ordered out of a Hague tribunal courtroom on July 4 after he repeatedly interrupted the bench and refused to listen to the charges against him.
“I’m not going to listen to this!” Mladic exclaimed as the Dutch presiding judge Alphons Orie began reading out the counts in order for the accused to plead guilty or not guilty.
“The court orders Mr Mladic removed from the courtroom,” responded Judge Orie, who a few minutes earlier had warned him to stop interrupting.
“You are not letting me breath!” Mladic exclaimed as the curtain on the courtroom was lowered.
In the public gallery - separated from the courtroom by a wall of bullet proof glass - women who lost family members in the Srebrenica massacre became extremely agitated and shouted “murderer!” in Mladic’s direction.
It was a chaotic conclusion to what was supposed to have been a rather perfunctory procedural hearing, where Mladic would be given another opportunity to enter a plea, since he failed to do so at his initial appearance in early June.
According to court rules, each defendant has 30 days to enter a plea. If they still refuse to do so, the bench will enter a plea of not guilty on the accused’s behalf, which is exactly what happened after Mladic was removed from the courtroom.
Mladic was the commander of the Bosnian Serb army from 1992 to 1996. He is alleged to have been responsible for the Srebrenica massacre – considered the worst single atrocity committed on European soil since the Second World War – and the 44-month shelling and sniping campaign against Sarajevo, which killed some 12,000 civilians.
He is also charged with crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible transfer in 23 municipalities across Bosnia.
The indictment, an amended version of which was confirmed by judges shortly after his arrest, is now almost identical to that against Mladic’s former superior, wartime Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic, who is currently standing trial at the tribunal.
Both Mladic and Karadzic are alleged to have been part of a joint criminal enterprise, the purpose of which was to remove Bosnian Muslims and Croats from Serb-claimed territory in Bosnia-Hercegovina.
From the beginning of today’s hearing, Mladic - who wore a grey suit - seemed at once defiant and slightly disoriented. He dropped his glasses on the ground, which a security guard had to retrieve. When the judge told him to remove his baseball cap, he did so briefly, but then put it back on.
He also seemed confused when it came to working the microphone on the desk in front of him, and often spoke for long stretches without bothering to activate it, despite protests from the bench.
“Please remain silent at this moment,” Judge Orie instructed more than once.
The judge also noted Mladic’s “undesirable communication” with the public gallery and referenced events during the June 3 initial appearance that had been “initiated” by both the accused and the audience.
If this happened again, the judge warned, “measures will be taken”.
Despite this warning, Mladic seemed keenly interested in those sitting on the other side of the glass. At one point, he them a “thumbs up”.
“Mr Mladic, you are communicating with the public gallery,” a frustrated Judge Orie observed. “Please look in our direction.”
Mladic responded that he heard better out of his left ear, which was why his head was tilted towards the public.
When allowed to address the courtroom, Mladic repeatedly complained that the defence lawyers he requested – one from Serbia, another from Russia – were not present in the courtroom. Only the temporarily assigned “duty counsel” Aleksandar Aleksic was there, and he reported to judges that Mladic was refusing to speak to him.
Last week, the court asked for more time to vet the two counsel of Mladic’s choice, who are not currently on the list of practicing lawyers at the tribunal.
Mladic indicated that he was not ready to do anything – including entering a plea – until the matter regarding the two lawyers was cleared up, and they could be present with him. He complained the judges were trying to “impose” counsel upon him.
Judge Orie denied this, and at the end of the hearing said that a status conference in the case will be scheduled in due course.
Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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