LONDON -- The war crimes trial of Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military leader accused in the killings of Muslim civilians during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, opened Wednesday in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.
Mladic faces 11 counts of genocide, murder, persecution, terrorism and hostage-taking, including the 1995 slayings of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica. He denies all of the accusations.
Onlookers at the opening of the trial said Mladic, wearing a dark gray suit, applauded and gave the thumbs up sign as judges entered the courtroom. Wearing earphones, he listened attentively as presiding Judge Alphons Orie read out the charges.
The massacre in Srebrenica came after Bosnian Serb forces entered the town, separated the Muslim men and boys from the rest of the population and took them away. The victims' bodies were later found shot and buried in mass graves.
Dermot Groome for the prosecution laid out the case against Mladic, backed with statements from witnesses and survivors of the war and detailed descriptions of the campaign of extermination, terror and ethnic cleansing carried out by the army of the Republika Srpska under Mladic’s command.
Groome described attacks against “civilians who were targeted for no other reason than that they were of an ethnicity other than Serb; their land, their lives, their dignity attacked in a coordinated and carefully planned manner. In some locations, this attack arose to the levels of genocide.”
Mladic, who was arrested last year in northeastern Bosnia-Herzegovina, is also accused of orchestrating the siege of Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital. About 10,000 people were slain over 3½ years as his troops relentlessly shelled the city and snipers fired on civilians. During the siege, Groome told the court, the Bosnian Serb forces held as many as 200 U.N. peacekeepers hostage, using some as human shields against eventual NATO bombing raids.
Mladic's forces are accused of other brutal attacks against Muslim civilians who were murdered, raped and robbed. Witness statements were identified only by single names or initials. Groome quoted from RM070, who said that the troops "had killed my mother ... they had killed my brother and up to that day I had been raped by almost 50 of them.”
The judges are expected to hear from more than 400 witnesses, some of whom also testified in the trials of the Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadcic and Slobodan Milosevic, Yugoslavia’s former president. Milosevic died of a presumed heart attack during his trial for war crimes in 2006.
Survivors and the families of victims gathered outside the court and some gained entrance to the public gallery. Several protesters held up placards saying, "We want justice for the victims of Srebrenica." Others told reporters they were there to look into the eyes of the man they know as “the Butcher of Bosnia."
The trial is expected to last at least a year.
-- Janet Stobart