Mladić verdict and The Hague's track record

The UN War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague on Tuesday upheld the life sentence against former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladić in the last instance of appeal. Mladić, under whose leadership the town of Srebrenica was taken and who is considered the main perpetrator of the massacre there, was charged with committing genocide and ten other crimes during the Yugoslav wars. Europe's press takes stock of the verdict and the now definitively concluded proceedings as a whole.

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Večer (SI) /

Justice has prevailed

For Večer, this was the only right verdict:

“It should not and could not be otherwise. Life imprisonment for the Bosnian Serb military commander General Ratko Mladić was also confirmed by the Court of Appeal in The Hague as the maximum punishment. Justice has prevailed, as it did when the same sentence was passed for the political leader of the Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Radovan Karadžić, and others who bear the greatest guilt for the worst massacre in Europe since World War II. The survivors have at least been given some satisfaction by the sentence, even if no court can give them back their loved ones.”

Večernji list (HR) /

Crime pays off

The verdict against Mladić comes too late, Večernji list laments:

“The confirmation of life imprisonment can no longer give satisfaction to the relatives of the victims killed by his brutal army first in Croatia and then in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s. For them, only disappointment remains, as the judges in The Hague have failed to fulfil their most basic task - to swiftly dispense justice and show that, as in Nuremberg, crimes do not pay off. Mladić was probably already a case for psychiatry before the war and the disintegration of Yugoslavia, and he only 'perfected' this 'talent' for cruelty and ruthless murder during the war.”

Der Tagesspiegel (DE) /

Terror and ethnic cleansing continue

The ruling is not proof that the international justice system works, Der Tagesspiegel insists:

“It is an open secret that the international community is sitting back and watching while wars, terror and ethnic cleansing continue, in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Ukraine, Belarus, as well as those perpetrated by Islamist militias south of the Sahara. But the view that 'the people who live there' should resolve their own conflicts and punish crimes is becoming increasingly prevalent... In leftist discourses one hears talk of 'human rights imperialism'. The universalism of human rights is under scrutiny, as is international justice. In realpolitik discourses human rights play a secondary role anyway. As long as such aberrations are accepted, the veto powers of the powerful will remain untouched.”

Hospodářské noviny (CZ) /

A beacon of hope

Hospodářské noviny looks beyond the Mladić trial:

“The end of the Cold War and the public pressure built up by the images of mass violence in the former Yugoslavia or in Rwanda made the establishment of The Hague court possible. Serious crimes committed in countries whose governments prevented their prosecution or where the conditions did not allow it were tried there. The Ratko Mladić verdict gives us hope that serious crimes will continue to be punished in the future. Even if the prospects now seem more than uncertain, for example in the case of Syria, which is protected by Moscow in the UN Security Council, or in Myanmar, whose military leadership is protected by Beijing.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

Reconciliation still a long way off

The Tribunal is a success story in legal terms, but it is not universally accepted, NRC Handelsblad notes:

“Jurists praise it. ... New norms in international criminal law have been established. Rulings on genocide and rape have had an impact on other war tribunals and national courts. But it has not been successful in every area. ... The Tribunal has revamped important jurisprudence and historiography. But it has not led to reconciliation. The verdicts are barely recognised in Serbia and Croatia, where animosity between the ethnic groups has not disappeared. And war criminals who return home after serving their sentences are welcomed like heroes by their families and nationalist politicians.”