ANALYSIS: The Mladic trial: proving mass murder as genocide
By Thomas Burmeister Eds, epa photos 00000402244956, others available May 29, 2011, 11:15 GMT
The Hague - Former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic could cut the hugely complex and potentially lengthy genocide trial he is facing short, with just a single word: 'guilty.'
Once he finds himself in front of the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague under genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity charges, 'Mr. Mladic' will be requested to enter a plea.
A guilty plea would be followed by a quick delivery of a sentence, which could hardly be any other than prison for life.
But the 69-year-old is not going to make it easier, neither for the tribunal, nor the relatives of tens of thousands of victims of his actions during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.
Immediately after his arrest on Thursday, Mladic said through his lawywer Milan Dilparic that he does not recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
Presuming he sticks to that, he will be following the tactic as his political counterpart in the Bosnian war, the former Serb president Radovan Karadzic, who was arrested in 2008.
Brought before the judges, Karadzic refused to respond to the indictment - in that case, the court automatically presumed that a 'not guilty' was returned and the trial opened.
Ever since, in the trial expected to last at least until mid-2012, the chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz's team has had to fight hard to back every single accusation from the indictment.
The most daunting task? Proving that the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica was genocide committed on his political orders.
The same challenge awaits the prosecution in the case of Mladic, who was accused as the one commanding the military as it overran what was supposed to be a safe haven under UN protection.
So, the prosecution clearly faces another Herculean task in the Mladic trial.
Only the three judges named to hear the case - German judge Christoph Fluegge, who will handle court proceedings, Dutchman Alphons Orie and South African Bakone Justice Moloto - will have a more demanding job.
In the end, they will have to decide whether the prosecution produced enough evidence to convict the defendant, which will be particularly difficult with the accusation of genocide.
For a conviction for the worst of all crimes, it is not enough to prove the mass murder at Srebrenica, but that it was committed with the aim of destroying Muslims in the area.
In other words, ICTY must be convinced that there was 'the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,' as the UN defined genocide in 1948.
In 2007 the International Court of Justice, also in The Hague, did rule that a genocide was carried out at Srebrenica. But individual guilt, the intent of each defendant still had to be proved.
Fluegge himself hinted in a 2009 with the German magazine Spiegel that the term 'genocide' complicates things. He then asked whether 'genocide, as a qualification of mass murder, was really necessary.'
'Strictly viewed, the term genocide fits only with the Holocaust,' said the 63-year-old judge, referring to the Nazi extermination of some six million Jews during World War II.
Fluegge's views may play a role in the Mladic trial, especially if the defendant, as Karadzic, begins arguing how the killings were a consequence of war operations that the Muslims forced the Serbs into, but by no means a genocide.
But even if the accusation of genocide does not stand in the end, hardly anybody in The Hague doubts that Mladic will be convicted at least of war crimes.
But in any case, years will pass before a verdict can be heard.