Is Ratko Mladic guilty of war crimes and genocide in Bosnia?

The 'Butcher of Bosnia' begins his defence today, as court considers charges crimes against humanity

Former Bosnian Serb Military Leader Ratko Mladic
(Image credit: Serge Ligtenberg/Getty Images)

Lawyers for former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic are set to begin their case today as the 72-year old appears before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), but questions remain over whether the court will be able to secure a conviction against the man dubbed the "Butcher of Bosnia".

Mladic denies 11 charges of genocide and crimes against humanity dating back to the 1992-95 Bosnian war. Some of the charges relate to infamous events at Srebrenica and Sarajevo where thousands died.

The former general's lawyers have argued that there is not enough evidence to convict him of the most serious charges, including that of genocide.

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So will the ICTY be successful in convicting one of its most high-profile suspects? And what exactly are the accusations against Mladic?

Who is Ratko Mladic?During the Bosnian War, General Mladic was the head of the Bosnian Serb army. Many say he was responsible for some of the conflict's worst atrocities, including the slaughter of 7,500 Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995.

He was "a pioneer of the technique known as ethnic cleansing", says the BBC's Allan Little. Hundreds of thousands of non-Serbs fled their homes as the Bosnian Serb army attempted to establish an ethnically pure Serb state in Croatia and Bosnia.

Mladic was "fanatical but also fearless," Little says, "and this made him a folk hero among those he led".

What are the charges against Mladic?Mladic is accused of 11 charges related to his involvement in the Bosnian war. The charges that have been brought against him relate to the killings at Srebrenica, and to the forced expulsion of Muslim Bosniaks, Bosnian Croats and other non-Serb populations from villages and cities that came to be known as "ethnic cleansing".

Mladic is also charged with involvement in the siege of Sarajevo – a 44-month campaign that caused the death of 10,000 people.

What do his lawyers say?The defence says that Mladic was simply a soldier following orders, and say that there is simply not enough evidence to link him to the most serious crimes. They are also expected to point out that Mladic suffers from a condition that makes it impossible for him to "distinguish between truth and fiction", the BBC reports. Lawyers for the former general will be given 207 hours to present their case – the same amount of time allocated to the prosecution.

How has Mladic behaved in court?Throughout his trial, Mladic has maintained a defiant attitude. The Times's Europe Correspondent, David Charter notes one sinister moment between Mladic and one of the Mothers of Srebrenica group: "One of them caught his eye and drew her hand across her throat. He smiled back. He seemed to relax and even start to enjoy himself, leaning back in his chair, sticking his chin out and gesticulating".

In his appearances in court, Mladic has "showed he had lost none of his swagger," Time magazine says, "jauntily applauding his war crimes judges and giving them a thumbs up".

What happens next?The death penalty does not exist in the sphere of international justice, so if Mladic is found guilty the most severe punishment he can be given is life in prison.

The hearing will be broadcast on the tribunal's website, with a 30-minute delay.

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