Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Ratko Mladic in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)
At a status conference this week, former Bosnian Serb chief Ratko Mladic showed numerous family photos to judges before lashing out at them for presiding over a “biased NATO court”.
“This is a photo of my late daughter when she was little, when I was teaching her to ski,” Mladic said, holding up the small colour photo for the judges to see. Mladic’s daughter Ana committed suicide in 1994, reportedly with her father’s favourite shotgun.
“This is a photo of my son at the time, around 1978, when I was teaching him to ski, too. This is a photograph of my wife, and my sister-in-law who died, and her son who unfortunately is no more,” Mladic continued, holding up the various photos with reading glasses perched on his nose. He looked typically frail, and wore a long-sleeved blue shirt tucked into blue trousers, a departure from the suit and tie he has worn on previous occasions.
“This is a family photo of my brother and his family. Unfortunately, he’s dead too and I’ve never visited his grave, and that’s the mother who gave birth to me,” he said.
Mladic then held up a wartime photo of himself saluting in uniform.
“Here is yours sincerely in the uniform of the army of Republika Srpska, and I’m proud of that army and that uniform,” he said, before apologising to the judges for “shouting a bit.”
“I fully understand the feelings you have related to family members you have lost. I would even understand that without photos being shown to me,” presiding Judge Alphons Orie said to Mladic.
The accused then turned to show some of the photos to the public gallery, for which the judge said there was “no need”.
Judge Orie asked what Mladic would like the bench do to with regard to the photos, and whether there was any matter that needed to be raised with the registry.
In response, the accused turned on the judge.
“You are a NATO court… and trying me and my people. You have no right to that….This is no place for me and my fellow-fighters,” he said.
Judge Orie reminded Mladic that this was not the time to “deliver speeches which are predominately of a political nature”.
“Don’t think I’m trying to put on a circus here,” Mladic retorted. “I’m an old man, I’m nearing my end as far as I can see. It doesn’t matter how long I will last. What matters is what traces I will leave among my people.”
He also complained that two lawyers he requested for his defence team had been denied because they are Russian.
“You won’t let me wear my Russian cap. You won’t let me put it on my head. Just let me finish this,” he said as Judge Orie tried to interject.
When Mladic began talking about nuclear weapons, Judge Orie announced that he had switched off the accused’s microphone.
The judge said that any matters pertaining to the composition of the defence team must taken up with the court registry, and that if there was a medical reason why Mladic needed to wear a hat, his lawyers should bring it to the bench’s attention. The judge also said that the air conditioning had been regulated after the accused complained about cold air blowing on his head.
Mladic’s trial is due to start on May 14, with the date of the next status conference set for March 29.
The former general, 69, was arrested in Serbia last May after 16 years as a fugitive. He was 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 1995 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. The indictment against him was reduced this past December at the judges’ request, and it now deals with a total of 106 crimes instead of 196, and the number of Bosnian municipalities involved has been cut from 23 to 15.
The core elements of the case – the siege of Sarajevo, the massacre at Srebrenica, crimes committed in various municipalities, and the taking of United Nations hostages – remain the same, and the indictment still contains 11 counts.
The prosecution has stated that it intends to call a total of 410 witnesses, 158 of whom are expected to appear in court.
Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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