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30 May 2011

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.

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. 



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