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Mladic defended his people from 'jihad': lawyers

December 9, 2016

Ratko Mladic's lawyers have said the former Serb military commander should be acquitted of genocide charges. They told the judges in The Hague that Mladic had defended his people from leaders preparing for jihad.

Ratko Mladic in Den Haag
Image: dapd

"Ratko Mladic is not a monster. He was a soldier defending against a monster, which was the Islamic war machine," his lawyer Branko Lukic told the judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at the closing of the four-year-old trial.

Once dubbed "the Butcher of Bosnia," Mladic has 11 charges on him, including two of genocide, as well as war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the bloody 1992-1995 Bosnian conflict.

Prosecutors urged the UN judges to jail Mladic for life, arguing that he was involved in what they said was a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Mladic denies all charges against him.

The massacre occurred when Bosnian Serb troops, led by General Mladic, overran the town of Srebrenica in July 1995, while it remained an enclave within Serb-held territory. Some 25,000 people remained in the town, seeking help from Dutch UN peacekeepers. The UN soldiers were outnumbered and the Serb forces immediately slaughtered some 2,000 men and boys before pursuing and killing some 6,000 more that fled into the forests around the city.

The Srebrenica massacre, Europe's worst since World War II, was eventually stopped by NATO.

'All parties were responsible'

On Friday, the defense lawyers presented their closing arguments, saying the 74-year-old had only defended his country and people from "ethnic and religious fanaticism."

"The Bosnian Muslim Party of Democratic action (SDA) was preparing for war," Lukic said, adding that all parties, not only the Bosnian Serbs, were responsible for the violence in Bosnia.

Belgrad Trauerveranstaltung Srebrenica
Image: Getty Images/AFP/E. Barukcic

Mladic's lawyer also pointed to the role of the Arab "mujahideen" (Islamic warriors) who had fought alongside Bosnian Muslims.

"To believe the prosecution's vision of the case, one has to ignore the presence and activities of an opposing armed opponent," Lukic said.

Mladic was arrested in Serbia in May 2011, after being on the run from justice for 16 years. His trial began a year later.

The trial is the last case - and one of the most important - at the UN tribunal, which was set up 23 years ago to deal with war crimes that took place during the conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s. It has indicted 161 individuals from all sides of the conflict, and convicted 83 of them.

Earlier this year, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was convicted of a single count of genocide and sentenced to 40 years in prison

A verdict in Mladic's case is not expected until November 2017.

Mladic refuses testimony at Karadzic trial

shs/se (Reuters, AFP)