© 2024 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Sentencing Of A Monster

Former Bosnian military chief Ratko Mladic appears for the pronouncement of the tribunal's judgment at The Hague on Wednesday.
Michel Porro
Getty Images
Former Bosnian military chief Ratko Mladic appears for the pronouncement of the tribunal's judgment at The Hague on Wednesday.

You might think it's hard to look at a white-haired 74-year-old, with a halting step from strokes, and see a trace of the man charged with committing war crimes more than 20 years ago.

But Ratko Mladic made it easy. In the dock of the courtroom of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague this week, he stood and shouted, "This is all lies!" and roared a sexual obscenity just before he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

Even a generation later, you could glimpse the brutal commander who ordered his Bosnian Serb gunners to turn their firepower full-bore on civilians in the besieged city of Sarajevo.

"Burn their brains!" he said.

Ratko Mladic was one of the men who engineered what became known to the world as "ethnic cleansing": a disingenuous term for killing people because of their race or religion.

Mladic was the man who walked the streets of Srebrenica in July of 1995, where he patted cheeks and told children and grandmothers they would be safe after the surrender of their Bosnian Muslim town. He drank a toast with the Dutch commander of U.N. troops who were there to make the town a "protected area." And when the Dutch returned to their base, Mladic's Serb paramilitary strutted in to rape women, slaughter children, and march men and boys to soccer fields, where they were stripped and shot, and their remains scattered.

Eight thousand people were murdered in Srebrenica.

Mladic went on the run after the war for 16 years to elude arrest for his crimes. Now and then, he would pose for a photo, in a nightspot or at a football game, to taunt the court and show: To some Serbs, he was still a hero.

He was finally arrested in 2011. His trial lasted more than four years and included testimony from nearly 600 people. Many described how Mladic ordered the bombardment of civilians in Sarajevo, and the rape and slaughter of Muslims in Srebrenica.

Mladic made a slash across his throat to one of the mothers of a child who was murdered by his orders.

Ratko Mladic was convicted this week, just as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar "ethic cleansing"; and as Syrian civilians continue to be killed and tortured by their own regime; and violence and hunger spread in Yemen.

The "Butcher of Bosnia," as he became known, was sentenced to life. But you may wonder if the justice Mladic received, more than 20 years after his war crimes, deters others from committing those atrocities today.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.