UN Court Rejects Genocide Appeal By ‘Butcher Of Bosnia’ Ratko Mladic : A Hopeful End to 25 Years of Proceedings

On 22 November 2017, an ICTY (International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals) Trial Chamber issued its Judgement in the case of Ratko Mladid. Under Article 2(2) of the Transitional Arrangements, the Mechanism has competence over appellate proceedings originating from ICTY cases for which the notice of appeal is filed on or after 1 July 2013.


Yugoslavia a Socialist state was a federation of six republics formed after World War II. It gathered Serbs, Bosnian Muslims, Albanians, Croats, Slovenes, and others together. In the 1990s, there were calls for greater autonomy within Yugoslavia, and ethnic tensions grew. Yugoslavia ceased to exist in January 1992 and began to disintegrate into its constituent states. 

Bosnia was made up of Serbs, Muslims, and Croats, but Serbs were in the minority. At the time, Karadzic, the leader of Bosnia’s Serbs, threatened war if Bosnia’s Muslims and Croats rebelled. After the 1992 Bosnian independence referendum accepted the secessionist bid, a war erupted, killing approximately 1 lakh people. Serbs carved out a large territory for themselves, and ethnic cleansing drove over a million Muslims and Croats from their homes. 


In August 1995, the United States, led by President Bill Clinton, decided to intervene. The conflict was ended in December 1995 when the Dayton Agreement was signed. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s modern state comprises the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska. Bosniak (Muslims) and Croat (Catholics) make up the majority of the Federation, while Serbs make up the majority of the Republika (Orthodox).

The 78-year-old labelled “the Butcher of Bosnia,” was a key figure in the ethnic cleansing and civil war that followed Yugoslavia’s disintegration in the 1990s. On 12 May 1992, Ratko Mladid was appointed Commander of the Main Staff of the Army of the Bosnian-Serb Republic (“VRS”). He remained in this position until at least 8 November 1996. 


Ratko Mladid was charged with two counts of genocide, five counts of crimes against humanity, and four counts of violations of the laws or customs of war by Serb forces during the armed conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina (“BiH”) from 1992 to 1995 before the ICTY for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mladid was accused of being personally criminally accountable for the above-mentioned acts, based on his involvement in multiple connected joint criminal enterprises (“JCEs”), among other things. Through the offences included in the indictment, the purported goal of the first, overarching JCE was to permanently remove Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory in BiH. Mladid was additionally charged with being a superior under Article 7(3) of the Mechanism’s Statute for, among other things, knowing or having cause to know that crimes were intended to be committed or had been committed by forces under his effective authority and failing to prevent or punish the culprits.

 The charges were as follows: 

Two instances of genocide (Counts 1 and 2) 

Five counts of crimes against humanity have been filed. 

  1. Persecutions (Count 3) 
  2. Extermination (Count 4) 
  3. Murder (Count 5)
  4. Deportation (Count 7) 
  5. Cruel and inhumane acts (forcible transfer) (Count 8) 

Four charges of violations of the rules or customs of war

  1. Murder (Count 6) 
  2. Terrorism (Count 9) 
  3. Unlawful Attacks on civilians (Count 10) 
  4. taking hostages  (Count 11) 


The ICTY’s Trial Chamber I delivered its decision in the case of Ratko Mladid on November 22, 2017. Mladid was found guilty of genocide in the Srebrenica region in 1995, as well as persecution, extermination, murder, deportation, inhumane actions (forcible transfer), terror, unlawful attacks on civilians, and hostage kidnapping by the ICTY Trial Chamber. In 1992, Mladid was cleared of genocide charges in six municipalities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The ICTY Trial Chamber determined that Mladid committed these crimes by participating in four JCEs: the first overarching JCE had the goal of permanently removing Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory in BiH by committing the crimes charged in the indictment; the second overarching that the JCE had was of completely removing Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory in BiH by committing the crimes charged in the indictment The second JCE’s goal was to terrorise Sarajevo’s civilian population through snipers and bombardment. The third JCE’s goal was to exterminate Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, while the fourth JCE’s goal was to kidnap UN personnel to prevent NATO from launching airstrikes against Bosnian Serb military targets. 



Ratko Mladid filed a motion on December 18, 2017, requesting an extension of time to file his notice of appeal against the ICTY Trial Judgement. Mladid contended that the length and complexities of the ICTY Trial Judgement, as well as the voluminous underlying record, warranted a 150-day extension beyond the original deadline for filing his notice of appeal, which was December 22, 2017. Judge Theodor Meron, the Mechanism’s then-President, set a bench of five judges to this matter before the Appeals Chamber on December 19, 2017. On December 20, 2017, Judge Meron assigned himself as the case’s Pre-Appeal Judge. The Pre-Appeal Judge granted an extension of time for the filing of the notices of appeal on 21 December 2017, and both parties lodged their respective notices of appeal on 22 March 2018. Following yet another extension of time granted on May 22, 2018, for the filing of the appellant’s and respondent’s briefs, the parties filed their respective appellant’s briefs confidentially on August 6, 2018. The Prosecution and Mladid filed public redacted editions of their appellant’s briefs on 7 August 2018 and 11 September 2018, respectively. On June 18, 2018, Mladid requested that Judges Theodor Meron, Carmel Agius, and Liu Daqun be removed from the appeals bench in this case due to actual or apparent bias. The matter was referred to Judge Jean-Claude Antonetti by the President of the Mechanism on June 20, 2018. Judge Antonetti granted Mladid’s requests on September 3, 2018, and on September 4, 2018, appointed Judges Mparany Mamy Richard Rajohnson, Gberdao Gustave Kam, and Elizabeth Ibanda-Nahamya to substitute Judges Meron, Agius, and Liu on the appeals bench in this case. Judge Rajohnson was requested to resign from the bench in this case on September 12, 2018, and on September 14, 2018, he was replaced by Judge Aminatta Lois Runeni N’gum. Following her election as the Presiding Judge in this case on September 12, 2018, Judge Nyambe designated herself as the Pre-Appeal Judge. Both parties filed their respective response briefs on November 14, 2018, and their respective reply briefs on November 29, 2018. The appeal hearing in the case was held on August 25 and 26, 2020, at the Mechanism’s Hague branch. After Judge Kam’s untimely death, the President appointed Judge Mustapha El Baaj to the appeals bench in this case on February 18, 2021. 



Finally, United Nations war crimes judges upheld former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic’s genocide conviction and life sentence on Tuesday 9th June,2021, confirming his central role in Europe’s worst atrocities since World War II. “His name should be added to the list of history’s most depraved and barbarous figures,” said chief tribunal prosecutor Serge Brammertz following the verdict. He urged all officials in former Yugoslavia’s ethnically divided region to condemn the ex-general. The appeals chamber “dismisses Mladic’s appeal in its entirety…, dismisses the prosecution’s appeal in its entirety…, and affirms the trial chamber’s sentence of life imprisonment imposed on Mladic,” said presiding judge Prisca Nyambe. The verdict brings to a close 25 years of proceedings at the ad hoc International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which convicted 90 people. “I hope that children in (Bosnia’s Serb-run entity) Republika Srpska and children in Serbia who are living in lies will read this,” Munira Subasic, whose son and husband was killed by Serb forces who overran Srebrenica, said after the ruling, highlighting Serb genocide denial. 

In Washington, the White House praised the work of the United Nations tribunals in bringing war criminals to justice. “This historic decision demonstrates that those who commit heinous crimes will be held accountable. It also strengthens our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities anywhere in the world “It was stated in a statement. The appeals judges stated that Mladic, who was a fugitive for 16 years after his ICTY indictment until his 2011 capture, would remain in custody in The Hague while arrangements were made for his transfer to a state where he will serve his sentence. It is unknown which country will accept him as reported by Thomas Reuters

Mladic’s lawyers had argued that the former general could not be held accountable for crimes committed by his subordinates. They demanded acquittal or a retrial. Prosecutors had requested that the appeals panel uphold Mladic’s conviction and life sentence in their entirety. They also wanted him to be found guilty of genocide for a campaign of ethnic cleansing – a drive to expel Bosnian Muslims, Croats, and other non-Serbs to carve out a Greater Serbia – in the early years of the war, which included shocking detention camps. 

The prosecution’s appeal was also denied. According to the 2017 verdict, the ethnic cleansing campaign amounted to persecution, a crime against humanity, but not genocide. Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on Tuesday that the final Mladic ruling demonstrated that the international justice system had held him accountable. In a statement, Bachelet said, “Mladic’s crimes were the abhorrent culmination of hatred stoked for political gain.” 

Mladic was found to be a part of “a criminal conspiracy” with Bosnian Serb political leaders, according to the lower ICTY court. It was also discovered that he had “direct contact” with then-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who died in 2006, just before the verdict in his own ICTY trial for genocide and crimes against humanity. The tribunal determined that Mladic was central to the Srebrenica massacre, which took place in a U.N.-designated “safe area” for civilians because he oversaw both the military and police units involved in the persecution. 

By Indrasish Majumdar

Student at National Law University, Odisha

Editor ISLR


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