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article imageJudgement next month on 'Butcher of Balkans' Mladic

By Jo Biddle (AFP)     Oct 18, 2017 in World

UN judges said Wednesday they will deliver next month a long-waited verdict in the case of the man once dubbed "the Butcher of Balkans", just weeks before the tribunal set up to prosecute those behind the 1990s conflicts closes down having helped write international law on genocide and war crimes.

Six years after Ratko Mladic was captured on the run and turned over to UN war crimes prosecutors, judgement will be handed down on the once-feared Bosnian Serbian military commander on November 22 for his alleged role in the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.

His is the last trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), set up in 1993 by the United Nations at the height of the wars as the world agonised over the atrocities being committed in the heart of Europe.

Mladic, 74, has denied 11 war crimes charges, including two of genocide, arising from an alleged ruthless campaign of ethnic cleansing to create a Greater Serbia in the 1990s wars.

More than 100,000 people died and 2.2 million were left homeless during the Bosnian war, one of several conflicts triggered by the death throes of the former Yugoslavia.

"The pronouncement of the judgement in this case shall take place on Wednesday November 22 at 10:00 am," the presiding judge Alphons Orie said in a statement.

- Prosecutors seek life term -

Mladic is notably accused of being behind the punishing 44-month siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, which claimed an estimated 10,000 lives in a relentless campaign of shelling and sniping.

He has also been charged with genocide for his role in the 1995 killing of almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, Europe's worst bloodshed since World War II.

He faces a second charge of genocide in several Bosnian municipalities, for which no one has yet been found guilty by the court.

After living openly in Serbia despite an international arrest warrant against him, Mladic was finally captured in 2011 after 16 years on the run and transferred to a UN detention centre in The Hague, where the tribunal is based.

His trial opened in May 2012 and lasted until December 2016, when prosecutors in their closing arguments urged the judges to jail Mladic for life.

"It would be... an insult to the victims, living and dead, and an affront to justice to impose any sentence other than the most severe available one: a life sentence," prosecutor Alan Tieger told the court.

But defence lawyer Branko Lukic countered that Mladic was "an innocent man," arguing he "is not a monster, he was a soldier defending against a monster, that was the Islamic war machine."

On November 29, the tribunal will also hand down a verdict in an appeals case brought against former Bosnian Croat leader Jadranko Prlic and five co-defendants.

Both Prlic's defence team and the prosecution are seeking to revise the 25-year jail term imposed on him in 2013 for the deportations, murders and rapes of tens of thousands of Muslims.

- Legacy -

With the Mladic verdict, these will be the final judgements handed down by the ICTY when it closes on December 31, after indicting a total of 161 people for their roles in the wars.

A new mechanism known as the MICT has been set up in the same building in The Hague by the United Nations to handle all appeals and lingering issues arising from cases.

One of the biggest appeals before the MICT will be that of Mladic's alleged cohort Radovan Karadzic, who is appealing a 40-year jail term for war crimes and genocide imposed on him in March 2016.

Of the cases brought before the ICTY, the most notable was that of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, found dead in his cell in the UN detention centre in 2006 while his trial was ongoing.

A total of 83 people were sentenced by the ICTY, many to long jail terms, and 19 were acquitted.

On its website, the tribunal says "it has irreversibly changed the landscape of international humanitarian law and provided victims an opportunity to voice the horrors they witnessed and experienced."

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