Ratko Mladic, the Serbian General wanted for war crimes including the killing of over 8,000 men and boys around the town of Srebrenica during the Bosnian conflict was finally captured after 16 years on the run. United Nations General, Ban Ki -moon described the arrest by Serbian commando units as “a historic day for international justice”.
The conflict in Bosnia- Herzegovina began in 1992 following the breakup of Yugoslavia. This led to increased tensions between Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats, and Muslim Bosniaks in a territorial conflict which led down a brutal and terrifying path of ethnic cleansing, systematic mass rape and genocide. Mladic was appointed Lt Gen in 1992 by Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic who along with Slobodan Milosovic, former Yugoslav President, were indicted for crimes against humanity.
Mladic has now made an appearance before a Serbian war crimes court in Belgrade and will be extradited to stand trial in an international court in The Hague. His arrest had been seen as a pre-condition for Serbia joining the European Union. Milos Saljic, the appointed lawyer for Mladic, claims that his client does not recognize the court and that he is physically and mentally not fit enough to undergo the investigation.
Mladic had for years been able to evade capture despite being spotted several times in public places with his family. According to the Telegraph, “a recent poll conducted for the Serbian government's National Council for Cooperation with The Hague Tribunal found that 78% of Serbians would not report Mladic to the authorities if they knew where he was hiding.”
Even a 10 million euro reward offered by Serbian President, Boris Tadic was not enough to induce civilians to give up Mladic who was discovered hiding out at a relative's home under a false identity.
On hearing of his capture, President Tadic stated that, “we have lifted the stain from Serbia and Serbs wherever they live”. However, sporadic protests broke out amongst Mladic supporters at the news of his arrest and they joined together to sing Serbian nationalist songs.
Known as the “Butcher of Bosnia” Mladic attracted a loyal following amongst his serving officers despite his egotistical behaviour, short temper, and violent mood swings. The former leader sometimes referred to himself as “God” and was alleged to have kept goats named after Western leaders he despised.
In the Spring of 1992, residents of the city of Sarajevo found themselves under siege by Serbian forces under his authority. Surrounded on all sides inhabitants were forced to construct a tunnel to maintain outside contact with friendly forces and connect with the UN controlled airport and Bosnian controlled territory. An estimated 10,000 people including many children were killed in Sarajevo as their homes came under severe bombardment from shells in an assault which lasted 44 months.
One of the early massacres of the war took place at a gymnasium in the village of Bratunac, just outside the town of Srebrenica in June 1992, where an estimated 350 Bosnian Muslim men were tortured and murdered by Serb paramilitaries and special police.
Three years later, in June 1995, Mladic ordered his men to take over Srebrenica itself driving out over 40,000 people. Dutch UN peacekeepers were used as hostages as 8,000 men and boys of fighting age were separated from the female members of their family in a terrible act of ethnic cleansing. Women and children gathered for safety at the UN base of Potocari, while 1,700 men fled to hills in an effort to escape to Bosnian held territory.
In an act that brought much international condemnation, Dutch peacekeepers handed over 242 elderly men to the Serbs, none are believed to have survived. In total around, 8,000 men and boys were slaughtered and disposed of in mass graves.
Hasan Nuhanovic was acting as a translator for the Dutch peacekeepers when Bosnian Muslims sought refuge at the UN base of Potocari, to escape Serbian forces working under the orders of General Mladic. His mother and brother were unable to remain in the camp and not wanting to be separated from his family, Hasan's father joined them. The irony was that Srebrenica had been dedicated a “safe area” along with several other places but not enough forces were committed to protecting civilians.
In extracts from Letter from Srebrenica (Vesograd Genocide Memories), Hasan describes finding the remains of his family years later:-
Murder of Mother
In the fall they got in touch with me about my mother. They found her or what was left of her in a creek, in the village of Jarovlje, two kilometres from Vlasenica. My home town. The Serbs who live there threw garbage on her for fourteen years. She wasn't alone. They killed another six in the same place. Burned. I hope they were burned after they died.
Murder of Father
They identified my father four years ago eleven years after his execution. They found a little more than half his bones, they say. His skull was smashed from behind. The doctor could not tell me if that happened after he died. They found him in a secondary mass grave, Cancari. Kamenica near Zvornik. There are thirteen mass graves there.
Murder of Brother
Today I identified my brother by his tennis shoes:-
In the spring of ‘95 I bought my brother new tennis shoes, Adidas from some foreigner. He brought them from Belgrade on his way back from Srebrenica from vacation. My brother hadn't been wearing them for more than a month or two when all that happened. And I bought him Levi 501s, he was wearing those. I know exactly what T shirt he was wearing and what overshirt…
Hasan describes being given a bag of what had survived from his brother's remain… including the shoes…
I looked for that well-known slogan on the Levis, that would also confirm my brother's identity. I took the remains of my brother's jeans into my hands after fifteen years. Metal buttons. Part of the inside of the pockets. Everything that was made of cotton had fallen apart. Only the synthetic material was left.
Some other tag hangs untouched, just a little dirty, stuck in those threads, in the strands, the fragments.
I read it looking for the Levis trademark. It says, “Made in Portugal”.
All day I see that “Made in Portugal” before my eyes. And for my whole life I think I will see that. I am going to hate everything that was “Made in Portugal” just like I hated Heineken beer that the Dutch UN soldiers had guzzled in Potocari, on the base, less than an hour after they drove all the Muslims off it – handing them over, right into the Serbs' hands. Or maybe I will love everything that has “Made in Portugal” written on it, everything that will remind me, until the end of my life, of my murdered brother…
Women and young girls caught up on the Bosnian conflict did not escape the brutality either with the Serbian military under Mladic using a policy of “systematic rape” as a weapon of war to dehumanise Muslim females.
The following facts collated by Majorie Miller, (Times Staff writer, 2001) stated that, “one woman identified as witness number 75 said she was raped for 3 hours by 15 men. Two teenage girls said they were held for months by one of the defendants as personal sex slaves before each was sold for 500 German marks (about 330 dollars then) to soldiers from the Yugoslav Republic of Montenegro.”
According to UN report, an estimated 20,000 women, most of them Bosniaks were alleged to have been raped by Bosnian Serbs in the first year alone. Legal test cases were eventually brought against three Bosnian Serbs with a UN tribunal establishing sexual enslavement as a crime against humanity.
Boraslav Herak, a 22 year old, former textile worker, was the first case to be put on trial charged with 32 murders and 16 rapes, including the murder of 12 of his 16 rape victims. Herak claimed to have been ordered to participate in mass rape by his commander because he claimed, “it was good for morale”.
Documentary filmmaker Aki Nawas has captured some of the suffering and search for answers in “A Painful Peace” (2010) interviewing survivors and rape victims and investigating how they view their Muslim identity two decades later.
One of the questions Aki sought to explore was the failure of the west to adequately deal with injustices against Muslim communities. This feeling was echoed last night by representatives of the Mothers of Srebrenica who when interviewed about the arrest of Ratko Mladic were not optimistic that justice would ever be served.