Prisoners at Trnopolje camp in Bosnia, one of the camps Ed Vulliamy and ITN revealed in 1992. Photograph: ITN
He faced two countings of genocide: one for Srebrenica, the other for what happened in the “municipalities” elsewhere in Bosnia. Here serial atrocities were committed by troops under Mladic's direct command over those years, while countries around the world dithered, and worse. The whole idea of the Hague tribunal was as much an act of contrition for that failing as it was ambition for international justice. Mladic's persecutions included more mass-murder, torment, mutilation and rape, in the camps at Omarska, Trnopolje and Keretem in north-west Bosnia. To the east, in Visegrad, civilians- including newborns- were herded alive into houses for incineration, or down to a bridge to be shooting, or chopped into pieces, and hurled into the river Drina. Then there was the wholesale demolition of countless towns and villages, and the “cleansing” of all non-Serbs, by demise or deportation; the raze of mosques and Catholic churches; the meet of women and girls into camps for violation all night, every night. And the rest.
None of this, apparently, is genocide. Mladic was acquitted on that counting. This raises the question: then what is?
Among those in The Hague to hear the verdict was Kelima Dautovic, who survived the Trnopolje camp while her husband was in one at Omarska, and lost many of her extended family and neighbours in the levelling of her home township of Kozarac in 1992.” It's so disappointing, but hardly surprising ,” she says.” Maybe they didn't want to call it genocide because it happened under the eyes of the international community that was there, supposedly protecting us. Whatever, I hope the historians do a better task than the magistrates .”
Among the more outrageous farces along the tribunal's long and winding road was the incarceration in 2015 of one its former senior officers, Florence Hartmann, for her subsequent journalistic coverage of Srebrenica, with reference to material sealed by the court. Hartmann, who from her cell could see Mladic taking daily workout, observes today that” no genocide in history happened over five days in summer. Genocide is a process .”
She notes that unlike in other verdicts, the role of Serbia itself has been fully omitted:” The verdict has stripped genocide of ideology, history and international context .”
It's a good point. Human Rights Watch celebrates the fact that the verdict sends” a message to those in power around the world who the hell is committing brutal atrocities, whether in Burma, North Korea, or Syria”, as preparations begin for prosecutions of war crimes in Syria.
But who precisely will be brought to justice? Mladic is a warlord, and better incarcerated than free. But, as archbishop Desmond Tutu has rightly asked: where was Tony Blair when it came to justice for the ruinings of Iraq, to which one might add the names Cheney, Rumsfeld et al? Will justice in Syria be similarly “stripped” to exclude Assad and Putin, and whoever in the regime of our friend Saudi Arabia is arming Islamic State and bombing Yemen? Should that former darling of the human rights motion, Aung San Suu Kyi, be expecting an indictment?
The Hague tribunal's remit was in part judicial, but also to “promote reconciliation” in the Balkans. Well, there is none. Mladic get largely what he wanted: a Bosnian Serb statelet from which almost every non-Serb was banished in 1995, to which only a bold few precariously return. He is adored, his portrait adorns bars and office walls in Bosnia and Serbia, his name sing at football matches.
Even the chief prosecutor at The Hague, Serge Brammertz, acknowledged that” situations of conflict and inhumanities can gain a logic of their own”, and life in Bosnia is more sectarian now than at any time since the war, all sides settling into the convenience zone of mutual hatred– which is, incidentally, financially lucrative to the political class resulting all of them. Mladic is no doubt a furious man, but he can start his sentence with the satisfaction of a mission in no small proportion accomplished.
* Ed Vulliamy is writer of The War Is Dead, Long Live the War: Bosnia- the Reckoning