By Eleanor Rose
Closing arguments for the defence of Ratko Mladic began on Friday at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, with the wartime military commander’s lawyers arguing that the “unfortunate killings” of Bosniaks from Srebrenica were acts of “private revenge” over which the Bosnian Serb Army chief had no control.
On the charge of genocide in Srebrenica, in which more than 7,000 Bosniak men and boys were massacred by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995, defence lawyer Branko Lukic said that there was no evidence that Mladic had ordered the deaths.
“As to the unfortunate killings that occurred in Srebrenica, the defence does not deny that some persons were killed in opportunistic and uncontrollable acts of private revenge by members of the MUP [interior ministry], by locals, and even by the renegade members of the VRS [Bosnian Serb Army] security organ,” said Lukic.
“These killings were not ordered by General Mladic, and were committed in direct violation of the orders of General Mladic who was recorded at several instances and by multiple persons as having decreed that all POWs [prisoners of war] would be exchanged with the other side,” he added.
Not all the Bosniaks from Srebrenica who died were civilians, said Lukic, claiming that 70 per cent of victims exhumed from mass graves were registered Bosnian Army soldiers.
The prosecution did not provide enough proof to back up the charge of genocide, added Mladic’s second defence lawyer, Dejan Ivetic, noting that the charge involves the intent to commit acts to destroy a group in whole or in part.
Ivetic argued that any evidence that went against the charge of genocide provided sufficient reasonable doubt for acquittal.
Mladic always insisted that the Bosnian Serb Army abide by the Geneva Conventions and the laws and customs of war, insisted Ivetic.
Mladic stands accused of 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 in 1992, terrorising the population of Sarajevo during the 44-month siege of the Bosnian capital, and taking UN peacekeepers hostage.
The defence argued that contrary to his image as the “butcher of Bosnia”, Mladic was not a monster, and attempted to instill “discipline, honour and courage” in his troops.
Far from being aggressors who pursued ethnic cleansing, Bosnian Serb forces were engaged in a defensive war against the threat of an Islamic fundamentalist “war machine” led by Bosniak wartime president Alija Izetbegovic, Lukic said.
He presented a video of Izetbegovic touring a unit of Islamic Mujahideen fighters who came to Bosnia to support his wartime government as it fought against Bosnian Serb forces commanded by Mladic.
Lukic then showed a video of what was claimed to be the same unit of fighters, beheading Serb fighters.
The gruesome clip showed a Mujahideen soldier with his foot on the severed heads of the fighters.
Lukic compared Izetbegovic’s forces to ISIS, and argued that the Bosnian Serb Army was outnumbered and ill-prepared; a “rag-tag army”.
He alleged that Izetbegovic had come to power “on a platform of Islamic fundamentalism” that advocated the superiority of Muslims over Serbs.
To accept the prosecution’s argument – that Mladic was a key part of the command apparatus that mounted a genocidal attempt to create an ethnically-pure Serb state – was to believe that Bosnian Serb forces acted in a vacuum, according to the defence, citing the mobilisation of Bosnian government forces and attacks on Bosnian Serbs by several armies including the Mujahideen, the Bosnian Army and Croat forces.
The defendant, according to Lukic, was facing a biased trial in which the prosecution tried to hold him responsible for crimes over which he had had no control and was being prosecuted “because he is General Mladic”.
“The non-Serbian members of the public have already convicted our client,” said Lukic, arguing that the trial had been prejudicial and tried to hold Mladic responsible for “all crimes ever committed by any Serb”.
The prosecution, said Lukic, had presented its case as if Mladic was “superhuman… all-knowing and all-powerful to control everything… and everyone” in Bosnia at the time.
On the charge of terrorising the population of Sarajevo, the defence contended that Serb forces were “constantly told by superiors to hold fire” while the Bosnian Army used citizens as human shields, placing troops in civilian buildings to shoot at the Serb forces around the city, said Lukic.
In municipalities alleged to have been ethnically cleansed by Mladic’s forces, Lukic said civilians left of their own accord due to lack of jobs, food and utilities.
The defence will continue to present closing statements on Monday and Tuesday, and the prosecution and defence will both have the opportunity to rebut each other’s closing arguments on December 15.
The verdict is expected next year.