Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Opening statements in the trial of Bosnian Serb wartime army general Ratko Mladic will commence on May 14, 2012, judges ruled this week. Witness testimony will begin two weeks later, on May 29.
Judges had originally envisaged starting the trial at the end of March, but Mladic’s defence raised numerous objections to this during the last status conference, mainly due to the “hundreds of thousands of documents” involved in the case, the fact that the defence team had not yet been finalised, and the state of health of the accused.
Branko Lukic, Mladic’s lawyer, said that any start date before October 2012 would be “unjust”.
The judges addressed those concerns in their February 15 scheduling order, stating that the three medical reports they had received indicated that the accused was well enough to attend court sessions. Furthermore, they said that while the defence needed time to review the vast amount of material, “the defence is sufficiently prepared to start the trial before October” and that “the exact number of pages reviewed by the defence... is not exclusively what determines the start of trial”.
The matter of assembling the defence team would be dealt with confidentially, they added.
Mladic, 69, was arrested in Serbia on May 26, 2011, after spending 16 years as a fugitive.
He was the 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 – remains 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.
The next status conference will be held on March 29.
Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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