Ambassador Clint Williamson is the Senior Director of the International Rule of Law and Security Program at the McCain Institute, and a Distinguished Professor of Practice at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, where he teaches International Criminal Justice. Amb. Williamson is the former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues and served as a Trial Attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY).
The news that Ratko Mladić’s final appeal was denied earlier this week is a testament to justice and accountability in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Balkans.
Ratko Mladić was the former Commander of the Main Staff of the Army of Republika Srpska from May 12, 1992 until at least November 8, 1996.
On November 22, 2017, he was found guilty by an ICTY Trial Chamber, in a voluminous opinion, of belonging to, contributing to, and intending the Joint Criminal Enterprise (JCE) that killed thousands of men and boys in the Srebrenica genocide and forcibly removed tens of thousands of women, young children, and elderly people and others from the area. He is also responsible for the Siege of Sarajevo and UN hostage-taking, as well as crimes against humanity and war crimes including persecution, extermination, murder, deportation, terror, and other inhumane acts.
He was indicted initially for these crimes on July 24, 1995 and the indictment would subsequently be amended five times. Mladić was finally arrested in Serbia on May 26, 2011, sixteen years after the initial indictment. His trial lasted for 530 court days, during which the Trial Chamber heard the evidence of 592 witnesses and admitted nearly 10,000 exhibits. While this process was much lengthier than anyone would have desired, it has established a well-documented, meticulous record of what occurred during the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina and of Ratko Mladić’s leading role in these horrific events. So, not only does this judgment reaffirm his culpability, but it also serves to create an objective historical record that can and should be a vehicle for reconciliation in the region.
While many of those responsible for the crimes of the 1990s Balkan wars have been brought to justice, others are awaiting trial and some continue to live at large. It is important that all of those responsible for serious crimes committed during the conflicts be held accountable. The final Mladić judgment was an important step in this direction and I hope that it brings some sense of closure and justice for the victims of his crimes and stands as a demonstration of what international criminal justice mechanisms can achieve.