Following the Mladić verdict, 22.XI.2017

I’ll be following the delivery of the verdict and surrounding events and making notes on it on this periodically updated post (what is popularly called a liveblog, I guess). For people wanting to watch the reading of the verdict, the courtroom video feed is here, and it begins at 10:00 (9:00 here in the UK). Check back occasionally for updates and comment.

First I will go walk my dog, who steals a snack from time to time but has never committed any genocides.

I’ll be timestamping updates, using GMT, so all you people in the non-Brexiting lands will think the updates were made an hour earlier.


Prediction time? It is probably never a good idea to make predictions, but when courts are in question, the best way to predict what they will do is to look at what they have done before. Here is the response I made to the Karadžić verdict, where the charges were very much like the charges in this case.

The defence basically had three arguments in this case: 1) an ideological appeal, 2) an attempt to deny the facts, and 3) an argument about responsibility. Let’s look at them one by one.

The ideological appeal was an effort to justify the crimes by asserting some elements of the context and character of the war. The judges will not take it seriously, as it is not a legitimate legal argument. The lawyers know this. It was an appeal to the regional media.

The factual argument was not offered substantively or seriously, and the defence experts were largely discredited. The defence offered a factual argument because they had to. They were aware that it would not get far given the overwhelming evidence.

The argument about responsibility is one that the judges will have to consider seriously. Basically it had two elements: 1) to deflect responsibility upward, and 2) to deflect responsibility downward. The upward part had limited application — it meant arguing that as a military commander he was not responsible for political decisions. Fundamentally this means arguing that if Mladić is not culpable for something then Karadžić is. The downward part meant arguing that crimes were committed by police or paramilitary forces, or by lower-ranking officers acting on their own (this is what is really meant when the specious contention is offered that “the whole people” is being charged). Here the prosecution was able to present good evidence that Mladić kept himself well informed and maintained a consistent chain of command.

The defence is also expecting a conviction. This is why they have spent the last several days playing games about the accused’s health and whether he would turn up for the verdict or not.


The prosecution has high stakes in this case, as it is the last opportunity they have to convince the judges to rule that the overall goals of the war were genocidal. This is the importance of the second genocide charge related to “the municipalities.” The effort did not succeed in the Karadžić case, which means that now you have the Tribunal offering a strange narrative that there was a three year war over a large territory where genocide occurred only once, in only one place.

One major difference between this case and the Karadžić case is that in this case the prosecution was able to present the evidence on burial sites and attempts to hide evidence of killings from lake Tomašica. This allowed them to use Prijedor as a dramatic example of genocidal process, and to trace events all the way from discrimination (the firings, the armbands) to persecution (the camps and torture) to killing (the burial sites). This will be persuasive to social scientists as a description of genocide. But we have to wait to see whether it will be persuasive to the judges.


Another difference between the Karadžić and Mladić cases involves the character of the accused. Karadžić was a grifter, whereas Mladić was a sadistic brute. This means that Mladić was not as cautious as Karadžić was in making his public statements, especially with regard to his intentions. Karadžić laid a ground for plausible deniability (albeit unsuccessfully). Mladić didn’t.


Consider supporting the Srebrenica UK charity. This is a group of people interested in maintaining the memory of events and working to prevent ethnic violence in the future. (Declaration of interest: I am chair of the charity’s academic advisory board).


Ratko Mladić showed up to hear the verdict after all. He is fiddling with his fingers and squinting in a very convincing performance of a poorly adjusted sociopath.


They are beginning with the municipalities charge. As in Karadžić, the court is affirming the facts as presented by the prosecution. But this does not mean that they will convict on the charge of genocide. They may, as they did in the Karadžić case, convict on crimes against humanity.

If this happens, many people will take it as a disappointment. This may or may not be justified. Which charge he is convicted of is an aretfact of what judges are prepared to do at a particular moment in time. The documentary record remains, and is open to other interpretations.


GUILTY of exterminations as a crime against humanity.


GUILTY of deportation and forcible transfer.


When Judge Orie says “the chamber found,” this means that the decision was unanimous. It indicates the overwhelming character of the evidence and effective management of the panel by the presiding judge. In his controversial decisions, Meron never got unanimous chambers.


Now, the genocide charge for the municipalities. “A majority” finds that there was genocidal intent in some municipalities. But that not all victims constituted a “substantial part” of the group to be destroyed.

This is the only charge on which there was any doubt as to how the Tribunal will rule. They are going to convict on all the other counts.


As expected, they are convicting on charges related to the establishment and maintenance of an atmosphere of terror in Sarajevo.


Now, the Srebrenica genocide charge. Having already convicted several of Mladić’s subordinates for genocide in Srebrenica, the judges will not fail to convict their commander.


Balkan Insight is also doing a live blog.


If you want to know more about Srebrenica, the Sense Agency has assembled a useful online exhibit: Srebrenica: Genocide in eight acts.


As expected, GUILTY for Srebrenica genocide.


Now to the specific responsibility of the accused.


Chamber finds that the overall JCE in the municipalities charge did not include genocide.


Ratko wants to go the toilet. Will he try to wash his hands?


They are taking a little toilet break, so to sum up so far: no surprises. They are not convicting on the municipalities charge, which will disappoint many people but was predictable.

It is important to keep in mind that the word of the judges is an opinion at a particular moment, and is not the last word. It is not the last word by judges, as both sides will definitely appeal. But more importantly, the contribution of ICTY is less in the collection of judicial opinions and more in the evidence it has collected and published. This evidence can be used to establish a number of facts outside of the realm of law, and build a comprehensive understanding of the events that accompanied the violence of the 1990s.

Some people will say that justice has been done and some will not. I would offer this: justice does not depend entirely on whether some people serve prison sentences or not. It depends also on what happens in the societies that remain affected by violence. Will people build and share complete and inclusive accounts of the past? Will the experience of victims be recognised and honoured? Will the necessary help be provided to the families that need it? Will people in positions of power put sincere effort into assuring that the conditions that lead to the kind of violence that happened do not emerge again?

So far the answers to most of those questions have been negative. It might be argued that an imbalance of attention meant that for years people concentrated on what perpetrators would be tried and convicted, and that this displaced attention away from the needs of people in the social environment. Justice depends a little bit on what happens to insane old Mladić and whether his hospital bed will be in a prison or outside of one. It depends a lot on what efforts people make and do not make to build an overall atmosphere of justice.


Ole Mladić is a slow pisser. If he killed as slowly as he pisses, people could have been much safer.


This marathon pisstake might be Mladić adopting the Šešelj strategy of disrupting proceedings by any means possible.


At the Nuremberg trials, special precautions were taken to reduce the risk of suicide by defendants.


Is the court going to have conclusions regarding the support given to VRS and its dependents by Serbia? The people writing the live blog at N1 note that the important names have not been mentioned.


The court is now back in session. Defence lawyer Ivetić says that Mladić has high blood pressure. Requests halt in proceedings or waiving of reading of the summary verdict. The request is not accepted.


Mladić is adopting the Šešelj strategy of repeatedly shouting “sve je lažno!,” etc. Judge Orie orders him removed from the courtroom. This is the defence implementing “Plan B.”


Orie assures everybody that Ratko has been provided with a sofa.


“He was in direct contact” with VJ and political leadership of Serbia. This is important, folks.


Note on the physical removal of Mladić from the courtroom: for a demented evildoer with hypertension, he’s a sprightly bugger.


Note is made of the fact that the killings documented in the famous Treskavica film were not committed by VRS.


N1 is reporting on the appearance of some pro-Mladić posters. I’ll state an opinion here: I think the perception that he has massive popular sympathy is a stereotype, and is probably overstated. This is probably a vocal minority. No national group is less or more evil than any other national group.


You hear Orie repeatedly saying “the chamber found”? That means that the presiding judge achieved consensus on centrally important issues. That is what a competent presiding judge does. Meron doesn’t.


Guilty on counts 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11.

Not guilty on count 1.

Remember, we are still in early days of jurisprudence on genocide, and it has been restrictive so far. This may not always be the case.


“Most of the factors” raised by defence as mitigation “have little or no weight.” Life sentence.


Now it is time to wait for the release of the written opinion. This will probably be a very long document, but the part that will get the most attention is the judges’ reasoning on count 1, the “municipalities” genocide charge.