The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum welcomes the news of today’s arrest in Serbia of Ratko Mladic, the former chief of staff of the Bosnian Serb Army who was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. He is expected to be extradited to The Hague to stand trial there.
Michael Abramowitz, director of the Committee on Conscience, the Museum’s genocide prevention program said, “This arrest is significant, and coming sixteen years after Mladic’s indictment, is long overdue. Holding perpetrators of genocide accountable for their actions, and seeking justice for the victims, no matter how long it takes, sends the strongest message that the world will not tolerate these heinous crimes, and stands as a warning to those who may perpetrate them in the future.”
Abramowitz continued, “This case is important because, along with the ongoing trial of Radovan Karadzic, it could offer a judgment on whether the behavior of Serbian leaders during the wider Bosnian war constituted genocide.”
Mladic, the chief military leader of the Bosnian Serb army, was arrested in Serbia by authorities who claimed for years that he was not in their territory. With Mladic’s arrest, the ICTY has only one indictee still at large, Goran Hadzic.
With the arrest of Mladic and the on-going trial of Radovan Karadzic, the chief civilian leader of the Bosnian Serbs, the ICTY is finally bringing to justice the highest level of the Bosnian Serb wartime leadership.
His trial, in addition to the on-going Karadzic trial, will include a review of the patterns and intention behind atrocities during the Bosnian war, including whether they constitute genocide. Previously, trials at the ICTY have found that genocide occurred only in one case: Srebrenica in 1995.
As the highest commanding officer of the Bosnian Serb Army, Mladic oversaw a conflict marked by ethnic cleansing, siege warfare, massive abuses against civilians and genocide. The areas in the north around Prijedor and Banja Luka became the sites of concentration camps, like Omarksa, Manjaca, and Trnopolje, where Bosnian Muslims and Croats endured torture, beatings, near-starvation conditions, and murder. The capital Sarajevo and other key cities were surrounded – water, electricity and food supplies were cut off entirely or diminished to a mere trickle and the civilians’ lives were at constant risk through bombardment and snipers. An estimated 10,000 people died in Sarajevo alone. In the east, Bosnian Serb forces together with paramilitary units from Serbia, claimed huge swaths of land as part of the so-called “Serb Republic,” and forcibly displaced the Muslims and Croat populations through murder, torture, rape, intimidation and theft.
Mladic is indicted for genocide for these overall patterns of assault against entire ethnic groups. He is also charged for genocide at Srebrenica, the largest massacre in Europe since World War II. Throughout the conflict, Bosnian Serb forces treated civilians from other ethnic groups as legitimate targets in their goal of creating an ethnically homogeneous mini-state, which they largely succeeded in accomplishing and was confirmed through the internationally brokered peace process held at Dayton, OH.
In addition, Mladic is charged with war crimes for taking UN military observers and peacekeepers hostage in May 1995 and tethering them to military targets, in an attempt to deter NATO bombing.