Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ratko Mladic: the force behind the Srebrenica, Bosnia killings

Ratko Mladic: The Force Behind the Srebrenica Killings

The Bosnian Serb commander’s role in the genocide committed in Srebrenica is described in detail in many indictments and verdicts pronounced before local and international judicial institutions.
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The name of Ratko Mladic, former commander of the Republika Srpska Army, VRS, is mentioned in many verdicts passed down by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, and the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

He is most often mentioned as “the key initiator of the killings” in Srebrenica in July 1995 and as a participant in the “preparation” for the joint criminal enterprise.
His official biography indicates that he was appointed as commander of the VRS Headquarters on May 12, 1992. As alleged in the verdict against Momcilo Krajisnik, he participated in a joint criminal enterprise with an aim of “permanently eliminating” Bosniaks and Croats from Bosnia and Herzegovina, “by using force or other means”.

By a second-instance verdict the Tribunal sentenced Krajisnik, a member of the mentioned joint criminal enterprise, the wartime president of the Republika Srpska Assembly, to 20 years’ imprisonment for his role.

The verdict against Krajisnik noted that in June 1992 the VRS mustered 177,341 soldiers, divided into five different corps and a few units, which were not attached to those corps.

It said that all these units were under “Mladic’s command” and that Mladic regularly attended the Republika Srpska Assembly sessions, at which “the strategic situation and further plans” were discussed, among other issues.

A second-instance verdict, pronounced by the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the case of Zdravko Bozic, Mladen Blagojevic, Zeljko Zaric and Zoran Zivanovic, former members of the Military Police Unit with the VRS Light Infantry Brigade in Bratunac, concluded that Mladic directly participated in planning the attack on Srebrenica.

This verdict pronounced Blagojevic guilty and sentenced him to seven years’ imprisonment. The three other indictees were acquitted of all charges. 

The verdict stated that, in March 1995 the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, issued a directive to the VRS, urging it to complete the physical separation of Srebrenica from the enclave of Zepa, making life more difficult for the besieged residents of Srebrenica.

Karadzic, the first president of Republika Srpska and supreme commander of its armed forces, is on trial at The Hague, where he is charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and violation of the laws and practices of warfare. He was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008.

In the course of the same month, March 1995 the VRS Headquarters issued another directive, signed by Mladic, ordering the Drina Corps to undertake “active military operations … around the [Bosniak] enclaves”.

A second-instance verdict, pronounced by the State Court against seven former members of the Second Special Police Squad from Sekovici and VRS, sentencing them to a total of 181 years’ imprisonment, describes further preparations for the attack on Srebrenica.

It alleged that on July 2, 1995, Milenko Zivanovic, then commander of the Drina Corps, ordered an attack on Srebrenica, which had been already designated a UN protected zone. The military operation was named “Krivaja 95”.

The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 819, declaring Srebrenica, Gorazde and Zepa protected zones on April 16, 1993. As a result, they were not to be exposed to any military operations.

The military operations against Srebrenica began on July 6, 1995 and began with the shelling of the town.

On July 9, 1995 the Drina Corps received a new order from Karadzic, giving “a green light for the occupation of Srebrenica town”. The order was executed on July 11.

Accompanied by Zivanovic, Radislav Krstic, former chief of headquarters of the Drina Corps, who was sentenced to 35 years’ imprisonment for crimes committed in Srebrenica, and other VRS officers, Mladic “took a triumphal walk along the empty Srebrenica streets” on July 11, 1995.

The verdict against Krstic described Mladic as “a powerful figure” and as a “key initiator of the killing” committed in Srebrenica in July 1995.

Drazen Erdemovic, a former member of the Tenth VRS Reconnaissance Squad, who was sentenced by the ICTY to five years’ imprisonment after he admitted taking part in the shooting of Srebrenica residents at Pilica agricultural farm, near Zvornik on July 16, 1995, claimed he saw Mladic in Srebrenica.

A few indictments and verdicts pertaining to the genocide in Srebrenica note that after the seizure of Srebrenica, the VRS and Republika Srpska interior ministry designed and implemented a plan to execute several thousand males, men and boys, killed “deliberately and methodically”, solely on the basis of their ethnicity.

In response to the Bosnian Serb shelling, about 25,000 women, children and elderly people at first sought shelter in the UN Dutch Battalion base, in Potocari.

According to the second-instance verdict against the seven people sentenced for genocide, about 15,000 other Bosniaks, soldiers and civilians, headed towards Tuzla through the woods, seeking to escape.

The verdict further stated that Mladic, Krstic and other representatives of the Serbian military and civil authorities met the UN force in Bosnia, UNPROFOR and representatives of the Bosniaks sheltering in Potocari on July 11 and 12, 1995.

On that occasion, Mladic told them that he would oversee  the evacuation of the refugees from Potocari, while adding that all men, aged between 16 and 60, would be checked in order to determine whether there were any “war criminals” among them.

As mentioned in the verdict against Krstic, at this meeting Mladic insisted the Bosnian Serb actions were not targeted against civilians, calling on UNPROFOR to provide buses for their transportation. 

Mladic, Krstic and other officers were present in front of the UN Military Base in Potocari on July 12, 1995, when between 50 and 60 buses and trucks arrived. Those buses and trucks were used to transport women, children and the elderly.

The ICTY verdict against Vidoje Blagojevic, commander of the VRS Bratunac Brigade, and Dragan Jokic, chief of the Engineering Unit with the VRS Zvornik Brigade VRS, mentions that, on Mladic’s orders, the Republika Srpska interior ministry, MUP, “played the leading role in transporting refugees from Potocari”.

It further alleges that he Mladic was present at that location, alongside other high-ranking officers.

The ICTY sentenced Blagojevic and Jokic to 15 and nine years’ imprisonment respectively for crimes committed in the Srebrenica area during July 1995.

Members of the VRS and MUP then separated men, women and children in Potocari, near the UN Base, on July 12 and 13.

At a meeting held in Bratunac, Mladic tried to reach an agreement concerning the surrender of members of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina from Srebrenica. As the agreement was not reached, VRS and MUP forces were ordered to block the departing convoy of refugees from Potocari.  

Between 5,000 and 6,000 Bosniaks, mostly men, were meanwhile either captured by, or surrendered to, VRS and MUP forces in the area of Kravica, Sandici, Konjevic polje and Milici on July 13, 1995. Some of these were taken to Kravica Agricultural Cooperative and shot on July 13.

The first genocide verdict, pronounced in Sarajevo in summer 2008, says Mladic came to the meadow in Sandici and the Agricultural Cooperative, and addressed the prisoners.

As stated in the verdict against Dragan Obrenovic, former chief of headquarters and deputy commander of the First Zvornik Infantry Brigade with the Drina Corps, Mladic gave an order for some of the men captured fleeing from Srebrenica to be taken to Zvornik and shot. The order was executed on July 13, 1995.

After he admitted taking part in the crime committed in Srebrenica, the ICTY sentenced Obrenovic to 17 years’ imprisonment.

The men who had been separated from the rest of the convoy in Potocari, and others, who had been captured at other locations, were held in detention for some time prior to being executed.

Following the execution of the men at various locations and their immediate burial in mass graves, their bodies were exhumed and reburied at other locations as per Mladic’s orders.

As per its previous practice, the Prosecution might propose acceptance of these previously determined facts.

Timeline: War in Bosnia

Key Dates and Events in the Bosnia war.
For the first time after the Second World War, multy-party elections are held in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Polls are won by the ethnic-based parties. The mainly Bosniak Stranka Demokratske Akcije, SDA, wins 86 seats in the assembly. The Srpska Demokratka Stranka, SDS, wins 72 and the Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica, HDZ, wins 44. Parties agree to share power along ethnic lines, so that the president of the presidency is a Bosniak, the president of parliament a Serb and the prime minister a Croat.

June 1991:
Slovenia and Croatia declare independence. The nexy day, the Yugoslav People's Army, JNA, engages in armed conflict in Slovenia. War spreads to Croatia.

Autumn 1991:
On September 25, UN Security Council passes resolution 713 imposing an arms embargo on all of former Yugoslavia. Bosnia and Herzegovina organizes referendum on independence. The JNA begins to withdraw from Croatia toward Bosnia. Working with JNA, the SDS in Bosnia starts arming Bosnian Serb population.

October 1991:
Bosnian Serb Assembly, dominated by SDS, is founded and proclaimed supreme legislative organ of the Serbs in Bosnia.

October 13, 1991:
SDS leader Radovan Karadzic says: “In just a couple of days, Sarajevo will be gone and there will be 500,000 dead’ in one month the Muslims will be annihilated in Bosnia and Herzegovina”.

November 1991:
Bosnian Serb assembly endorses proclamation of “Serbian autonomous districts” in Bosnia

January 1992:
Bosnian Serb assembly proclaims Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, later called Republika Srpska

February 1992:
Bosnian Serb assembly urges Serbs to boycott independence referendum on February 29 and March 1, 1992. Turnout is 67 per cent of whom 99.43 per cent favour independence.
Independence declared on March 5, 1992. Bosnian Serb political leadership starts roadblocks in protest.
Constitution of Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina declares in Article 2 that its territory consists of “Serbian autonomous regions, municipalities and other Serbian ethnic entities, including the regions in which genocide was committed against the Serb population in World War Two.”

March 1992:
Serbian forces attack parts of northern Bosnia.

April 1992:
Bosnia and Herzegovina internationally recognized as independent state. The 44-month siege of Sarajevo starts. Bridges connecting Bosnia to Croatia at Brcko and Bosanski Samac are destroyed.

May 1992:
Radovan Karadzic outlines “six strategic objectives” of Serbs in Bosnia: establishing state borders separating the Serbian people from the other ethnic communities: establishing corridor between Semberija and Krajina: establishing corridor to the Drina River valley: establishing border on Una and Neretva rivers: dividing Sarajevo into Serbian and Muslim parts: ensuring access to sea for Republika Srpska. Bosnian Serb assembly votes to create Army of Republika Srpska, VRS, and appoints Ratko Mladic commander.

Conflict starts in eastern and northern Bosnia, in Foca, Gorazde, Prijedor, Bijeljina, Visegrad and elsewhere.

JNA stages partial withdrawal from Bosnia.  Massacre occurs in Sarajevo among people waiting for bread line.

Summer 1992:
International media reports on “ethnic cleansing”, death camps, mass rapes. In June, government in Sarajevo declares state of war and begins general mobilization. Sarajevo airlift begins. Bosnian Serbs seize 70 per cent of territory. Hundreds of thousands forced from their homes and large portions of Bosnia “cleansed” of all non-Serbs.

May – August, 1992:
Camps in north-west Prijedor area established by Serb authorities where more then 7,000 non-Serbs are detained, tortured or killed.  The biggest, at Omarska, is later classified by Human Rights Watch as a concentration camp.

January 1993:
Cyrus Vance of US and David Owen of UK put forward peace plan. Under pressure from Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, Karadzic signs plan, but after Bosnian Serb assembly votes against, he withdraws assent.

February 1993: 
UN votes to set up war crimes tribunal for Yugoslavia to try “persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law in the territory of the former Yugoslavia since 1991”.

March 1993:
Fighting erupts between Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats in western and central Bosnia.
July 1993:
Owen-Stoltenberg peace plan offered. Bosniak leader Alija Iyetbegovic turns it down in August.
September 1993:
Fighting begins in Bihac region, in northwest Bosnia, between Bosnian government forces and break-away Bosniaks loyal to Fikret Abdic, leader of self-proclaimed Autonomous Region of Western Bosnia. He is sentenced in 2005 to 15 years’ imprisonment in Croatia. Conflict lasts until August 1995.
February 1994:
Bosnia Serb shelling of Sarajevo marketplace kills 67. NATO rules that heavy weapons must be removed from 20-mile exclusion zone around Sarajevo or turned over to UN control. NATO downs four Serbian planes in Bosnian no-fly zone.

March 1994:
US-mediated peace treaty between Bosniaks and Croats signed in Washington.

April 1994:
NATO bombs Serb positions as Serb forces advances on UN proclaimed “safe haven” of Gorazde, eastern Bosnia.

May 1995:
Shelling at Tuzla kills 70 and wounds more than 150.

July 1995:
Serbs overrun UN “safe haven” of Srebrenica, eastern Bosnia, killing more than 7,500 men and boys in worst single atrocity to take place in Europe since end of Second World War.

August 1995:
Serb shelling of market hall in Sarajevo kills 43 and wounds many.
Croatia overruns Croat Serb republic and takes Knin. Joint Croat-Bosniak offensive pushes Serbs out of much territory in western Bosnia. Corridor opened up to Bihac. Belgrade orders Bosnian Serbs to agree to end the war.

November/December 1995: 
Dayton peace accord marks end of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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