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The suspension of Ratko Mladic's war-crimes trial: A concise guide
Thanks to a stunning mistake by prosecutors, the Butcher of Bosnia's prosecution for the deaths of thousands of Muslims will have to wait
A crowd watches the court proceedings of former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic in Sarajevo last year: His war crimes trial was put on indefinite hiatus this week.
A crowd watches the court proceedings of former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic in Sarajevo last year: His war crimes trial was put on indefinite hiatus this week.
REUTERS/Danilo Krstanovic
T

he long-awaited genocide trial of Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military commander known as the "Butcher of Bosnia," came to a sudden and unexpected halt on Thursday. Presiding judge Alphons Orie suspended the hearing at the United Nations war crimes tribunal at the Hague due to errors by the prosecution team. What does this mean for the future of the case? Here, a brief guide:

What are the charges against Mladic?
He is accused of orchestrating Europe's first genocide since the Holocaust. Prosecutors say Mladic ordered the slaughter of 8,000 unarmed Bosnian Muslim men and boys from Srebrenica in 1995. They also say he targeted Muslim civilians to spread terror during the 1992-95 siege of Sarajevo. During opening arguments, the prosecution showed a film clip in which Mladic bragged of killing people "in passing" whenever he was in Sarajevo.

How did he plead?
Mladic called the charges "monstrous," but refused to enter a plea. His lawyers, however, told the court he was not guilty.

Why did the judge suspend the trial?
Orie said the prosecution had made "significant disclosure errors" that could taint the case. Even though prosecutors had 16 years to prepare their case — while Mladic, now 70, was on the run — they failed to hand over thousands of documents to the defense.

How big of a setback is this?
After this week's opening statements, lawyers were supposed to begin presenting evidence later this month. Mladic's attorneys are now asking for a six-month delay. Orie says he's "gathering information as to the scope and the full impact of this error," and that he'll announce a new start date "as soon as possible."

Would a few months' delay really matter?
Potentially. Many Bosnian Muslims fear any postponement could rob them of justice entirely if the aging former general, who reportedly suffered two strokes and heart trouble before his capture last year, dies before the court can reach a verdict.

Sources: Associated Press, Daily Mail, Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Los Angeles Times, Telegraph, TIME

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