Closing statements are beginning in the case against former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic, as his four-and-a-half year trial for genocide and war crimes moves closer to its conclusion.
The prosecution is summing up its arguments in the trial of Ratko Mladic from Monday until Wednesday at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague, while the defence will give its closing statement from December 9 to 13.
Both sides will then have the opportunity to comment on each other’s closing statements on December 15 at the UN court.
The 74-year-old former Bosnian Serb military chief is on trial for the genocide of Bosniaks from Srebrenica in 1995, the persecution of Bosniaks and Croats throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, which allegedly reached the scale of genocide in several other municipalities, terrorising the population of Sarajevo during the siege of the Bosnian capital, and taking UN peacekeepers hostage.
The progress of the trial has been hampered by the poor health of the former army chief, who insists that he is innocent, as well as numerous attempts by the defence to have the proceedings delayed.
His lawyers requested, on several occasions, that the presentation of closing statements be postponed until spring next year.
In July’s attempt to stall proceedings, the defence complained of the “systematic partiality” of the Tribunal, arguing that two judges in the trial, Alphons Orie and Cristoph Flugge, as well as Tribunal president Carmel Agius, had previously made conclusions about Mladic’s guilt, thus precluding a fair trial.
They cited previous verdicts handed down by the Hague Tribunal in cases related to Srebrenica and Sarajevo in which Agius, Orie and Flugge were involved.
Their bid was unsuccessful, with Agius announcing in September that he would not consider the motion and adding that there was “not a single unsolved appeal [from Mladic’s defence] regarding the alleged partiality”.
Mladic is seen by many as a crucial leadership figure in attempts by Serb forces to purge Bosnia and Herzegovina of Bosnian Muslims [Bosniaks] and Croats during the war of 1992 to 1995 in pursuit of an ethnically pure state.
Born in Bozinovici in eastern Bosnia in 1942, Mladic was an officer in the ranks of the Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, and was promoted several times in the early 1990s before being made commander of Bosnian Serb forces in May 1992, by which time the war had just begun.
The former army commander was indicted in 1994 but used his considerable influence to evade attempts to arrest him until 2011, by which time Serbia had come under international pressure to hand him over or see its bid for European Union candidacy stall.
He was finally apprehended in the village of Lazarevo near Zrenjanin in northern Serbia after 16 years on the run. His trial began in May 2012.