UPDATED: Statement of the Office of the Prosecutor, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on the arrest of Ratko Mladić

General Ratko Mladić during UN-mediated talks ...

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Following today’s news of the arrest of fugitive Serbian war criminal,  Ratko Mladić, the Office of the Prosecutor, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has issued the following statement:

The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia welcomes the arrest today of Ratko Mladić, General Colonel and former Commander of the Main Staff of the army of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina/Republika Srpska.

He was indicted by the Tribunal on 25 July 1995 and was a fugitive from justice for almost 16 years.

In relation to the arrest, Prosecutor Brammertz stated the following:

“I welcome the arrest of Ratko Mladić today in Serbia. We await arrangements for his transfer to The Hague where he will stand trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

We recognize the work done by the Serbian authorities, specifically the National Security Council and Serbia’s Action Team, in apprehending Ratko Mladić. We thank them for meeting their obligations towards the Tribunal and towards justice. We also acknowledge the efforts of the international community in supporting measures to secure Ratko Mladić’s arrest.

With the news of the arrest, we think first and foremost of the victims of the crimes committed during the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. These victims have endured unimaginable horrors – including the genocide in Srebrenica – and redress for their suffering is long overdue. Ratko Mladić’s arrest is also significant for all people in the former Yugoslavia.  We believe that it can have a positive impact on reconciliation in the region.

Today is also an important day for international justice. Ratko Mladić’s arrest clearly signals that the commitment to international criminal justice is entrenched. Today’s events show that people responsible for grave violations of international humanitarian law can no longer count on impunity.”

BACKGROUND

Ratko Mladić, Colonel General, former Commander of the Main Staff of the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS) is charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war against Bosnian Muslim, Bosnian Croat and other non-Serb civilians in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the 1992-1995 war.

As set out in the Indictment, Ratko Mladić together with Radovan Karadžić was a key member of a joint criminal enterprise to permanently remove Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from the territory in Bosnia and Herzegovina claimed by Bosnian Serbs. To achieve this aim, Ratko Mladić, acted in concert with others to commit crimes in the locations and at the times alleged in the indictment.

As the most senior officer of the Bosnian Serb Army during the war, Ratko Mladić was the superior of Bosnian Serb Army members and other Serb forces integrated into or subordinated to the Bosnian Serb Army. As such, he had effective control over the forces who participated in the crimes alleged. Ratko Mladić is charged with planning, instigating and ordering each of the crimes.

Ratko Mladić is charged with crimes that include:

  • the murder of close to 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995.
  • the murders, persecution, forcible transfer, detention and mistreatment of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats during the campaign to permanently remove such persons from the territory under the control of the forces of Republika Srpska.
  • the terror campaign and the shelling and sniping of civilians in Sarajevo by Bosnian Serb forces under his command and control which resulted in the killing and wounding of thousands, including many women and children;
  • the taking of UN military observers and peacekeeping personnel as hostages in May and June 1995.

Nineteen years have passed since the first crimes listed in this indictment were committed.  Sixteen years have passed since Ratko Mladić was indicted. Today he is in custody and will be brought to stand trial in The Hague.

***

UPDATE:

The Associated Press via Canadian Press reports,

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — In a message from his U.N. cell, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic says he is sorry Gen. Ratko Mladic has been arrested and wants to work with him “to bring out the truth” about the Bosnian war.

Karadzic’s American lawyer Peter Robinson called The Associated Press on Thursday to relay the message shortly after visiting Karadzic in the Hague detention unit that he will soon share with Mladic.

Robinson said Karadzic expressed sorrow at Mladic’s “loss of freedom” and that he “looks forward to working with him to bring out the truth about what happened in Bosnia.”

Mladic was Karadzic’s wartime military chief. Both men were indicted together in 1995 for crimes including genocide.

Birds, feather. (h/t George M. Wallace via Twitter)

Kevin Jon Heller over at Opinio Juris remarks,

Mladic’s arrest is interesting from a number of angles.  To begin with, it will no doubt have a significant impact on the Karadzic trial.  Prosecutors have long wanted to try Mladic and Karadzic together, although I think the Karadzic trial is too far along to make joinder a realistic possibility.  But who knows what the OTP will do.

A separate Mladic trial would also complicate the ICTY’s completion strategy, which calls for all judicial work to cease by the end of 2014.  Given how long trials involving high-value suspects take at the ICTY, there is little chance that Mladic’s trial and appeal would end by 2015.  So it looks like the Security Council will either have to keep the ICTY going longer than anticipated (which would not be the first time) or leave Mladic’s prosecution to the newly-created residual mechanism. The latter seems like an undesirable option — so my guess is that the ICTY judges and prosecutors will get to keep their jobs a bit longer.

In my view, joinder is preferable in light of the inextricable ties between the two defendants alleged to have orchestrated the Srebrenica massacre and ethnic cleansing campaign in Bosnia & Hercegovina.

That said, the Trial Chamber III back on November 10, 2005 denied the Prosecution’s motion pursuant to Rule 48 of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence to join three cases involving Milan Martić , Jovica Stanišić , Franko Simatović and Vojislav Šešelj. In its Motion, the Prosecution also considered the joinder of indictee, Goran Hadžić, who remains at large. According to the ICTY website:

In its decision, the Trial Chamber concluded that “none of the factors that have been taken into account – judicial economy, conflicts of interest and rights of the accused, minimizing hardship for witnesses and consistency in verdicts – militate in favour of a joinder”.

Martić was subsequently convicted and sentenced to 35 years’ imprisonment on October 8, 2008, link to judgment here). On May 23, 2011, the Appeals Chamber denied Simatović’s appeal against the decision denying his urgent request for provisional release.

The full text of the indictment against Ratko Mladić is available on the ICTY website at the following address: http://www.icty.org/case/mladic/4.

The case information relating to the ongoing trial at The Hague of Radovan Karadžić (IT-95-5/18-I) is available on the ICTY website at the following address: http://www.icty.org/case/karadzic/4.

Courtroom proceedings can be followed on the Tribunal’s website at www.icty.org

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