Former Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic has dismissed the United Nations’ Yugoslav war crimes tribunal as a “satanic court” and refused to appear as a defence witness for his former political master, Radovan Karadzic.
A court reunion of the two alleged chief architects of Serb atrocities during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war lasted only about an hour as Mladic repeatedly told judges he would not answer former Bosnian Serb president Karadzic’s questions, citing ill health and an unwillingness to risk incriminating himself.
The brief hearing marked the first time the two men had been seen together publicly since the aftermath of the war, but Mladic’s refusal to answer any questions beyond sketching a brief history of his military service meant it cast no new light on the fighting that left 100,000 people dead.
Mladic was to have been one of Karadzic’s last defence witnesses. Karadzic’s lawyer Peter Robinson said the former Bosnian Serb leader plans to testify in his own defence in February.
Both Karadzic and Mladic disappeared for years after the guns fell silent in Bosnia as they attempted to evade capture and extradition to face trial in The Hague. Karadzic was finally captured in Serbia in 2008, disguised as a bushy-bearded new-age healer, and Mladic was detained nearly three years later.
Both men are now on trial separately for crimes including genocide. Both insist they are innocent – arguing that everything they did during the war was intended to defend the Serb people – and face maximum life sentences if convicted.
Mladic initially refused to testify, then said he would speak if officials fetched his dentures, which he had left in his cell in the tribunal’s detention unit.
But with his false teeth in place, Mladic again refused to testify and despite issuing a subpoena for Mladic to appear in court, judges would not compel him to give evidence.
Mladic’s lawyer, Branko Lukic, told judges Mladic could not testify because he suffers from a stroke-induced condition he called “deception of memory” and cannot tell fact from fiction.
The two former allies barely made eye contact during the hearing. Karadzic was businesslike – often looking down at documents on his desk. Mladic appeared to be enjoying the attention, waving to the packed public gallery and saluting judges as he left court.
He asked to read out a seven-page hand-written statement he had prepared the previous evening, but judges refused.
As Mladic walked past Karadzic on his way out of court, Mladic said in Serbian: “Radovan, thank you and sorry. The idiots would not let me. They defend Nato bombs.”
Going through the motions of the examination of a witness, Karadzic asked Mladic questions about the main allegations in their respective indictments, even though he knew the bullish general would refuse to answer.
He asked if Mladic had ever informed him “prisoners” in Srebrenica would be or had been executed, an apparent reference to the 1995 massacre of thousands of Muslim men and boys in the eastern enclave.
He asked if the two leaders had agreed to subject residents of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, to a campaign of terror by shelling or sniping.
He asked why Serb forces conducted shelling and sniping in Sarajevo and, finally, he asked if the Bosnian Serb leadership had a plan to expel Croats and Muslims from Serb-held territory during the war.
Mladic repeatedly read out a refusal he had printed on a sheet of paper, once telling judges he touched upon the Srebrenica massacre in his seven-page prepared statement. “I think it would be interesting,” he told judges.
As he stood up to leave, Mladic sardonically thanked judges for not letting him say what he wanted to say. “You have confirmed my thesis that the Hague tribunal is not a court of law but a satanic court,” he said through a courtroom interpreter.