General Ratko Mladic, the third Serbian war criminal, was finally apprehended in Serbia on May 26. Wanted by UN prosecutors for war crimes during Serbia’s war on Bosnia, he was one of the principal architects of the gruesome massacre at Srebrenica in July 1995.
Serbian President Boris Tadic confirmed the arrest of the former Bosnian Serb army chief at a news conference in Belgrade. Mladic was the most prominent Serbian war criminal still at large since the arrest of Radovan Karadzic in July 2008. He will be extradited to the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Mladic was arrested in Vojvodina where he reportedly used the assumed name Milorad Komodic. He had lived freely in the Serbian capital Belgrade and he disappeared only after the arrest of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in 2001. Milosevic died in 2006 while his trial was underway in the Hague.
Mladic, together with Milosevic and Karadzic, organized and perpetrated the genocide of the people of Srebrenica in July 1995 that had been designated as a safe zone by the UN. An estimated 10,000 men and boys were systematically butchered by the Serbs and their bodies dumped in mass graves while Dutch peacekeeping troops looked on. Accounts of the massacre were provided by women and young children that were let go. They were forced to march on foot over mountains to reach Gorazde 60 miles away. Women recounted harrowing tales of separation from their loved ones — sons, husbands, fathers, brothers — who were hauled away in trucks and systematically massacred.
Every July, family members of the Srebrenica massacre participate in a grim ritual to bury the bodies of those whose parts have been painstaking identified after years of forensic analysis from DNA tests. Sometimes, bodies are exhumed to be reburied when other parts of the body are discovered from different mass graves. It is a heart-breaking affair that goes on year after year reviving painful memories of those terrifying days.
This year’s ceremonies in July may bring some consolation to victims’ families because another war criminal has been arrested and will be put on trial. The Hague tribunal is a slow and laborious process. Milosevic was arrested in 2001 and by the time of his death from heart attack in 2006, his trial had still not been concluded. Karadzic’s trial has not even started. It will be years before Mladic appears in court. There is little doubt that some family members would like to testify against this mass murderer and to look him in the eye to glean the wickedness that drove this monster to such despicable acts of barbarism.
His trial will not bring the dead back to life but family members of the Bosnian martyrs will at least know that while the wheels of justice turn slowly, in this case, they will finally see three prominent war criminals given their day in court, and hopefully just punishment for the horrors they perpetrated against innocent men and children.