By Biljana Pekusic
Perhaps the most important war crimes trial from former Yugoslavia, that of former 16-year fugitive Ratko Mladic, comes at the end of the Hague tribunal’s work. The tribunal’s mandate expires in 2014.
Evidently aware of that fact, Mladic is doing his best to slow down the legal process.
“Clearly, Mladic will try to slow down the trial as much as possible by stretching the timeframe for choosing a lawyer and by not respecting the court,” Yugoslav Lawyers Committee Director Milan Antonic told SETimes.
Antonic says the tribunal had to foresee this situation and develop a strategy for conducting an effective trial.
During his initial appearance before the international court, Mladic refused to plead and asked for over a month to select his legal defense team.
At his second appearance, Mladic did not want to address the specific points of the indictment and repeatedly interrupted the judges. Consequently, Judge Alfons Ori removed Mladic from the courtroom.
Despite this, tribunal prosecutor Serge Brammertz assures the skeptics the indictment is organized and harmonized with that of Radovan Karadzic.
“The indictment … is firmly established and the prosecution does all it can to speed up the process against him,” Brammertz told Sarajevo daily Dnevni Avaz.
Brammertz said the prosecution has learned a lot about criminal proceedings in complicated cases over the past 17 years, which will be of great help in the Mladic case.
Some legal experts, however, argue the Mladic indictment should be considerably shortened and the trial be expedited.
One legal recommendation suggests organising the trial in phases. After each phase, the judges would rule on a certain number of the charges. For example, Mladic would first be tried for genocide in Srebrenica and then on the other charges of the indictment.
“Mladic is not charged with genocide in Srebrenica only, but also in other municipalities in BiH. The prosecution has much evidence about it and perhaps it would be most logical to start with those charges of the indictment,” Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) researcher Zarko Markovic told SETimes.
Nearly 62% of all BiH citizens — 44% in Republika Srpska — say that the indictee should be tried on all charges regardless of the trial’s length, according to BCHR research.
Some worry that Mladic’s obstructive tactics will lead to his trial concluding the way it did for Slobodan Milosevic – with death in prison. Mladic is now an old, frail man and his health is of concern.
The only certain thing is that the prosecution “will likely not propose that Mladic be tried together with Radovan Karadzic”, tribunal prosecution assistant Frederick Swinnen said.
According to experts, there is trepidation in Belgrade about what Mladic may say concerning Serbia’s participation in the BiH war.
“He could prove he was under the direct command of the SR Yugoslavia authorities during the Srebrenica operation, and that nothing was done without their agreement or order,” international law professor Vojin Dimitrijevic told SETimes.
Mladic’s behaviour contributes to him losing support even from those who considered him a hero, according to EU Rapporteur for Serbia Jeljko Kacin, adding that bringing him to justice paves the way for healing the wounds of the past.
“The trials cannot in themselves bring reconciliation between the Bosniak, Croatian and Serbian people; they individualise the guilt and take away collective responsibility,” he told SETimes.
Only then, he added, will leaders be in a position to destroy the nationalist walls in people’s minds,” he said.