Ratko Mladić's Arrest and the ICTY


It was all over the news that Ratko Mladić, one of two remaining the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) fugitives, was arrested on Thursday 26th of May in the village of Lazarevo, northern Serbia. After 16 years on the run, the arrest of this Colonel General, former Commander of the Main Staff of the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS) and the so-called “Butcher of Bosnia” brought an end to one of history’s longest manhunts. Ratko Mladić was arrested by agents of the Serbian Security Intelligence Agency and his arrest comes at a crucial point for the negotiations regarding Serbia’s integration process into the European Union. Ratko Mladić was indicted on 25 July 1995 and was a fugitive from justice for almost 16 years. Untill Thursday the 26th of May 2011.

In a ICTY statement on the 26th may 2011 Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz welcomes the arrest of Ratko Mladić and stated the following in relation to the arrest; “Today is 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. 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.”

As set out in the ICTY’s 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. 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; genocide, complicity in genocide of close to 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995, persecutions, deportation and inhumane acts 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, unlawfully inflicting terror upon civilians, cruel treatment, attacks on 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 and finally the taking of UN military observers and peacekeeping personnel as hostages in May and June 1995.

Mladić has been on the run since his indictment by the ICTY in 1995. Since then Serbia has been under intense pressure from the international community to catch the fugitive. Earlier in May 2011 Chief Prosecutor Brammertz urged that Serbia must do more to ensure that all war crimes fugitives (Ratko Mladić and Goran Hadžic) are arrested. Prosecutor Brammertz's report to the Security Council concerning Serbia's cooperation and efforts could be crucial for Serbia’s continued road towards the EU. Delivering Mladić to the ICTY could have been an key condition for Serbia's further integration into the European Union.

The arrest of Mladić has been widely hailed as a huge success for Serbia and its Westward-leaning president, Boris Tadic. According to the Christian Science Monitor Boris Tadic declared that the arrest had “closed one chapter of our recent history that will bring us one step closer to full reconciliation in the region” and that Serbia had “wiped the stain” away.

The ICTY was tasked by the UN’s Security Council with trying those responsible for the worst war crimes and other breaches of international humanitarian law committed during the various conflicts in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb wartime political leader and Mladić's mentor, was captured in Belgrade in July 2008 and is currently on trial at The Hague. Just one indictee - Goran Hadžic (charged with a number of crimes committed in eastern Slovenia; for the murder and persecution of the Croat and non-Serb civilian population; the prolonged imprisonment of civilians in detention facilities where torture, beatings and killing was not uncommon and the forcible transfer of tens of thousands of non-Serbs from across the area under his control) – now remains at large.
After his arrest Mladić was brought to a special court in Belgrade. The process of trying Ratko Mladić can now begin. The next step will be his extradition to the Hague to be transferred to the custody of the ICTY. He will need to appear to be formally identified and will be asked which way he pleads to the charges laid against him. There will be an opportunity to review evidence and to appoint counsel, although he may seek to represent himself, like others including Milosevic, have done in the past.

According to Opinio Juris 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 Mladić’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 Mladić’s prosecution to the newly-created residual mechanism. Anyway it seems to me that the ICTY judges and prosecutors will get to keep their jobs a bit longer.