TRIAL: MLADIC & KARADZIC EVADE JUSTICE
GENOCIDE TRIAL WITHOUT RATKO MLADIC AND RADOVAN KARADZIC
“Defenceless men and boys [were] executed by firing squads, buried in mass graves and then dug up and buried again in an attempt to conceal the truth from the world." - Carla Del Ponte, Aug 21, 2006. - Opening statement in Srebrenica Genocide trial.
The U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague has resumed the trial of seven former Bosnian Serb military and police officers charged for their alleged role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre
The joint trial of the seven, five of whom are accused of genocide, is the biggest at the tribunal, which has combined their cases as it tries to complete its work by 2010. The trial, which started last month, got under way in earnest on Monday.
Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte used her opening statement today to criticize Serbia's government for failing to arrest and extradite fugitive war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic. She said it is "inexcusable" that the former top commander of Serb forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina has not been detained.
Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander Ratko Mladic are the most wanted fugitives of Bosnia's 1992-95 war, indicted by the Hague-based court for the siege of Sarajevo and masterminding the Srebrenica massacre in 1995. Mladic is thought to be hiding in Serbia.
Serb forces killed over 8,000 Bosniaks, mostly men and boys, after capturing the town, which the United Nations had declared a United Nation's safe haven.
Five of the former officers, Ljubisa Beara, Ljubomir Borovcanin, Vinko Pandurevic, Drago Nikolic and Vujadin Popovic, face various charges, including genocide and extermination. The two other men on trial, Radivoje Miletic and Milan Gvero, are charged with crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of wars including murder, persecution, forcible transfer and deportation. They have already appeared individually before the court and pleaded not guilty.
Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague, told the court that Gen Mladic "should be on trial in this case".
"Now the name Srebrenica is infamous ... invariably associated with the most heinous crimes," she added.
She repeated her criticism of Belgrade for failing to deliver him to the tribunal and promised that he and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic would eventually be brought to trial.
"It is absolutely scandalous that they have not been caught. Serbia is fully capable to arrest them, but has refused," she said.
Prosecutor Peter McCloskey said that Mladic and Karadzic plotted to force out the Bosniak population and that the armed forces were instructed accordingly.
"Mladic and Karadzic made what I refer to as the supreme act of arrogance and impunity and set out the plan to deal with Muslims in eastern Bosnia," he said.
"Men and boys were put in horrendous conditions ... they were beaten, starved and killed in two days," he said referring to July 1995, after the fall of the enclave.
"They were marked for death ... There was an organized mass execution going on," he added.
The EU suspended talks on Serbia's hopes of accession in May because of its failure to hand Gen Mladic to the UN war crimes tribunal.
Last month, the Serbian prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, submitted a plan for Gen Mladic's arrest which the EU welcomed.
Ms Del Ponte told the court that the seven men in the dock were "among the most responsible" for the massacre of over 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the UN-declared safe haven.
The trial at The Hague - which is expected to last more than a year - started last month with legal arguments and began its main phase today. It is the tribunal's latest attempt to hold senior officials responsible.
It was "beyond reasonable doubt" that Bosnian Serb forces committed "forcible resettlement of the population, mass murders and genocide," del Ponte stated.
The accused sat in silence and betrayed no emotion as Ms Del Ponte described the Srebrenica massacre as "the final phase of a comprehensive criminal plan to permanently erase the Muslim population of Srebrenica".
She told the court: "It is difficult, if not impossible to comprehend the horror inflicted on the inhabitants.
“Defenceless men and boys [were] executed by firing squads, buried in mass graves and then dug up and buried again in an attempt to conceal the truth from the world."
She said many victims had been bound and blindfolded "to make the murder easier for the executioners".
Bodies continue to be found in mass graves. Last week, forensic experts said they had exhumed the remains of more than 1,000 victims from a single grave near the village of Kamenica (read more here ).
The skeletons were badly damaged, indicating that the bodies had been dug up from elsewhere and dumped into a second grave as Bosnian Serb forces attempted to cover their tracks.
The Hague-based court has staged only a handful of trials dealing with the Srebrenica atrocities, including the case against the former Serb leader, Slobodan Milosevic, which was aborted after his death in March.
The two men accused of masterminding the killings - General Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic - are the tribunal's most wanted war crimes suspects.
The tribunal has already convicted six men over Srebrenica. Gen Mladic's deputy, General Radislav Krstic, is serving a 35-year prison term for aiding and abetting genocide and Colonel Vidoje Blagojevic is appealing against an 18-year sentence for complicity in genocide.
The indictments of the seven men were combined last year into a single indictment. They face allegations ranging from genocide to murder and persecution and are being defended by more than a dozen lawyers.
The suspects sat today in the packed courtroom, their faces betraying no emotion as they listened through earphones to a translation of Ms Del Ponte's opening statement.
At the end of her speech to the court, Ms Del Ponte vowed that the seven suspects would not be the last to face justice for the Srebrenica genocide.
Gen Mladic, Mr Karadzic and others evading capture "will be arrested," she said.
"They will be brought to The Hague and they will be tried for their crimes. This is our pledge to the international community and the women ... who mourn their losses and all victims of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia."
The prosecution sought to link former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic to the Srebrenica massacre but the case was closed without judgment after his death in March.
The massacre in the Bosniak enclave in eastern Bosnia is Europe's worst atrocity since the Holocaust.