For Immediate Release
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague today convicted former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity for his role in the 1992-1995 Bosnian War. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) – which conducted multiple mass grave investigations across the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s for the Tribunal – hailed today’s verdict as a victory for international justice and for the victims of Mladic’s crimes.
“After more than two decades, today’s verdict offers a measure of justice for all those who suffered from Mladic’s unconscionable crimes,” said PHR’s director of international policy and partnerships, Susannah Sirkin. “And for the PHR scientists who toiled in the mud for weeks on end to exhume graves, examine remains, and repatriate the remains of loved ones, today is a moment of vindication for their dedicated efforts to ensure that the physical evidence of the atrocities would reveal the truth and contribute to justice.”
Mladic commanded Bosnian Serb forces during the war that killed more than 100,000 people. Among his crimes, Mladic was convicted for his role in organizing a campaign of genocide against non-Serbs across the former Yugoslavia; orchestrating the four-year siege of the city of Sarajevo; and carrying out the multi-day massacre in 1995 of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica. His efforts were carried out in concert with Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, convicted of similar crimes in March 2016.
“To this day, our colleagues who examined the remains of Srebrenica are haunted by what the saw: clear evidence that those piled into a mass grave had been summarily executed, with single gunshot wounds to the head and their hands tied behind their backs,” said PHR’s Sirkin. “One of our colleagues even slept outside next to the grave to ensure that it would remain undisturbed. At times, we were unsure if those responsible would ever be held to account. Today, finally, we can say those efforts were not in vain.”
Indicated in 1995, Mladic remained a fugitive for 16 years until his arrest in May 2011. He was transferred to the ICTY and his trial began in 2012. Among the 377 witnesses who appeared in court: William D. Haglund, Ph.D., director of PHR’s international forensic program from 1998 until 2006. Dr. Haglund oversaw PHR’s work in the former Yugoslavia and was appointed the United Nations’ senior forensic advisor.
“There is no doubt that Bill’s powerful testimony and the hundreds of bodies that he and the PHR forensic teams exhumed provided irrefutable proof of the Srebrenica massacre, an important contribution to today’s verdict,” said PHR’s Sirkin. “He and all those who pursued these investigations did so in the belief that their efforts might one day lead to justice. It took far too long for this day to come, and yet it’s a powerful message that those who commit the most egregious crimes – whether heads of state or senior political or military leaders – are not immune from the rules of law. Those who commit such crimes should be warned that eventually they will be held to account.”
“Amid conflicts and even immediately afterward, the laborious and painstaking work of gathering evidence can sometimes feel futile or immaterial,” said Sirkin. “But it’s those rigorous and often unglamorous efforts that often yield the most important outcomes. This verdict shows that their work, and the work of all those who document such egregious crimes, is necessary in the global fight against impunity.”
The court sentenced Mladic to life in prison. The ICTY is scheduled to shut down later this year.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.