Ratko Mladic sentenced to life in prison



A historical ruling emerged from The Hague on November 22nd. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia sentenced General Ratko Mladic to life imprisonment after finding him guilty on all accounts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

The Bosnian civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina tore the demographic fabric of Yugoslavia from 1992 to 1995, eventually leading to the Republic’s disintegration into smaller ethnically sovereign nation states. In a twisted cyclical fashion, the conflict in the Balkan state began in the same manner and for the same reasons conflict had erupted in the Balkans at the turn of the twentieth century. According to Serbian records, on the second day of the Bosnian referendum for independence, a Serbian groom’s father was shot, an eerie parallel to the shooting of Franz Ferdinand in 1914 by Gavrilo Princip, a rebel (or activist?) that called for Serbian ethnic self-determination. The tension between Muslim Bosnians, Orthodox Serbs, and Catholic Croats escalated into a fully armed conflict by late 1992: Muslim Bosnians on one side and Orthodox Serbs on the other.

The conflict culminated into unspeakable atrocities inflicted against the Bosnian Muslim population. Foca, Srebrenica, Sarajevo—and many other villages of strategic irrelevance—became physical, mental, and emotional battlefields.

The Second World War, as bleak as it may sound, paved the way for blurring front lines, with modern warfare encompassing civilian areas as strategic military targets. The campaign against Bosnian civilians was among the most brutal and gruesome waged in modern history, paralleled only to the ethnic cleansing in Rwanda, Yemen, or ISIS controlled Syria.

Foca, Srebrenica, and Sarajevo still remember the atrocities carried out between 1992 and 1995.

Foca, in 1992, became the sight of a literal ‘rape camp’: thousands of Muslim women were abducted from their villages by Bosnian Serbs and taken to these camps to be routinely raped and tortured. Srebrenica, again in 1992, was the sight of the murder of eight thousand Muslim boys and men, their bodies thrown into mass graves, their lives only to live on in the memory of those who survived them. Sarajevo, until 1995, became a war zone: civilians were psychologically tortured by snipers, who would shoot to kill but mostly to humiliate and terrorise the population.

And it all came down to one man’s orders.

A silver-haired seventy-five year-old man is not the collective understanding of what a monster looks like; yet here is a real-life one. Ratko Mladic has been found accountable of the murder of eight-thousand young Muslim Bosnian men and boys at Srebrenica in 1992. The International Criminal Tribunal regarded him as the military organiser of the numerous campaigns that took place between 1992 and 1995 in an effort to ethnically cleanse pieces of land to make ‘living space’ for Serbs.

However, the ruling is historical not for its capacity to echo in time neither for its ability to discourage the next blood lusting warlord from committing such unthinkable acts—but because it comes almost a quarter of a century too late.

His sentence is too little, too late: at seventy-five, the life sentence will translate into a decade at most, partially spent in prison and partially spent in a prison hospital, as these things often go with old, sick inmates. One decade in prison after a lifetime of freedom, partially spent torturing and murdering thousands of innocent people. How can this be exalted as remarkable? If generations were taught anything of the Second World War, is that murderers like Ratko Mladic must be persecuted as soon as the conflict ends and to the greatest extent of the law.

This is a proceeding that does little to nothing to avenge the genocide of Bosnian Muslims. Two decades later, rage and disappointment in the legal system have become cemented and in a political atmosphere of rising Islamophobia and right-wing political parties, it is hard to rejoice a tardy sentence.

The cautionary tale of historia est magistra vitae (‘history is life’s teacher’) has never been properly understood by those in positions of power and influence. The Nuremberg Trials were an attempt to discourage genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Decades later, the Ratko Mladics, the Bashar Al-Assads, and the Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadis of this world go unpunished for their crimes. Nor are they discouraged from committing them in the first place: with no example of a clear and harsh punishment by the international legal system, history repeats itself.

The historical cyclicality of European bloodshed has characterised the manner in which European nations have approached the task of building a narrative for future generations. The European cautionary tale of ‘never again’ seemed to have stuck in the decades immediately following the Second World War. But by the turn of the decade of 1990, our newfound humanity was lost. Ratko Mladic’s sentence will not restore it.


Maria Julia Pieraccioni