Jun 8, 2021 - World

UN court upholds Bosnian Serb commander's conviction for genocide, war crimes

Ratko Mladic looks on from the defendant box prior to the hearing of the final verdict on appeal

Ratko Mladić looks on from the defendant box prior to the hearing of the final verdict on appeal. Photo: Peter Dejong/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

A court of United Nations appeals judges on Tuesday upheld Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladić's conviction and life sentence for genocide and war crimes committed during Bosnia and Herzegovina's 1992–95 war.

Why it matters: Mladić was known as the "Butcher of Bosnia" for commanding troops responsible for the Srebrenica massacre and other atrocities in Bosnia, where around 100,000 people were killed and more than 2 million displaced during the war.

  • Tuesday's verdict — 25 years after the end of the war — is one of the last major Balkan war crimes trials at the Hague's International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, per Reuters.
  • "It's really the last big trial. It is an endless story that many people thought would never end and now it will," historian Iva Vukušić told Reuters. "It sends a message that things are possible even when it seems hopeless," she added about what the verdict would mean to victims and their families.

The state of play: Mladić went into hiding after the war and evaded capture for 15 years, per Reuters. He was ultimately arrested in Serbia in 2011.

  • In 2017, he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of "genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes including terrorizing the civilian population of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo," reports Reuters.
  • Mladić appealed the verdict, but the court proceeding has been long delayed due to his ailing health and the coronavirus pandemic, reports the BBC.

The big picture: Presiding Judge Prisca Matimba Nyambe of Zambia announced Tuesday that the court dismissed Mladić's appeal “in its entirety” and upheld his life sentence, per AP.

  • However, the court also rejected an appeal by prosecutors to bring a second genocide conviction against Mladić for ethnic cleansing that occurred early on in the war, according to the BBC.
  • "The presiding judge dissented on almost all counts," adds the BBC.

What they're saying: "This historic judgment shows that those who commit horrific crimes will be held accountable. It also reinforces our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world," President Biden said in a statement.

What's next: Tuesday's court proceeding is a final verdict. A host country for Mladić's life sentence still needs to be determined, per Reuters.

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