Former Bosnian Serb army leader Ratko Mladic was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday after being found guilty of genocide for atrocities committed during the Bosnian war from 1992 to 1995.
Verdict proceedings had been interrupted earlier when the 74-year-old’s legal team claimed that his blood pressure was too high to continue.
After outbursts from Mladic, Judge Alphons Orie, who was delivering a summation of the case, ordered the removal of the ex-general, telling him he could monitor proceedings by audio and video.
“I am very distraught,” Mladic shouted inside the courtroom. “Everything that you have said is pure lies. Shame on you. It’s all lies.”
Mladic’s legal team had asked for proceedings to be halted or for the summation of the case to be skipped, which the Judge refused.
Mladic was charged with two counts of genocide and nine crimes against humanity and war crimes for his role in the conflict in the former Yugoslavia from 1992 to 1995, during which 100,000 people were killed and another 2.2 million displaced. He was found not guilty on one charge of genocide, but received a guilty verdict on each of the other 10 counts.
Mladic’s lawyer, Dragan Ivetic, said it was “certain” Mladic would appeal.
The trial, which opened in 2012, took place at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, Netherlands. The ad hoc court was established to prosecute crimes committed during the Balkans conflict.
Mladic was accused of orchestrating a campaign of ethnic cleansing, including the slaughter of thousands of Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995. It is the worst massacre to have taken place in Europe since the Second World War.
Prosecutor Serge Brammertz told reporters that Mladic will be remembered by history “for the many communities and lives he destroyed.”
“Today’s judgment is a milestone in the tribunal’s history and for international justice,” he added.
The trial of Mladic, who was arrested in 2011, has lasted 530 days and included more than 500 witnesses and nearly 10,000 exhibits.
Before the case was adjourned last December, prosecutors recommended a life sentence. Mladic had previously referred to the court as “satanic” and labeled the charges against him as “obnoxious.”
At a center for the association of women victims of war in Sarajevo, there was an outpouring of emotion during the judge’s summation.
There was particular frustration that Mladic was acquitted on one charge of genocide in Bosnian municipalities outside of Srebrenica.
Meliha Mrdzic, who said her father and brother were killed and thrown into the Drina River in Visegrad, told CNN she was left humiliated by the decision.
“The international community made me a victim a second time,” she said. “They make it seem like we killed ourselves, raped ourselves, slaughtered ourselves. I feel so hurt, I can’t describe it.”
Amela Meduseljac, who said she was raped by Mladic’s soldiers at Visegrad, said that victims will struggle to get over the judgment.
“Our mission as a rape survivor association was to stop victims from feeling like victims,” she said. “But it’s getting worse from year to year and it will get especially worse after this verdict.”
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called Mladic the “epitome of evil” and labeled his conviction a “momentous victory for justice.”
“Mladic presided over some of the darkest crimes to occur in Europe since World War II, bringing terror, death and destruction to thousands of victims, and sorrow, tragedy and trauma to countless more,” Zeid said in a statement.
“His conviction is a testament to the courage and determination of those victims and witnesses who never gave up hope that they would see him brought to justice.”
In Serbia, the country’s president, Aleksandar Vučić, urged his people to look forward to the future.
“Today is not a day for joy, nor for sorrow, but to see what kind of future we want,” he told reporters. “We all knew that the judgment would be like that. There is no one who did not know it in advance. My call to all citizens of Serbia is to start looking at the future today.
“Let’s think about where and how our children will live. How and in what way will we preserve peace and stability in the region”
In a separate development, Serbia’s Minister for Justice Nela Kuburović urged that Mladic be released to undergo medical treatment.
Who is Ratko Mladic?
The ex-general — accused of being “the Butcher of Bosnia” — was in command of the Bosnian Serb army that entered the town of Srebrenica in July 1995. In the days that followed, 8,000 Muslim men and boys were systematically slaughtered by troops under his leadership.
The late Bosnia peace negotiator Richard Holbrooke once described Mladic as “one of those lethal combinations that history thrusts up occasionally — a charismatic murderer.”
Mladic faced charges over his actions during the siege of Sarajevo, where his heavily armed forces cut the city off from the outside world. Serb forces pounded the city from higher ground each day, trapping Sarajevo’s residents in the valley below. More than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, perished.
After the war ended in 1995, Mladic went on the run before being found 16 years later when police burst into the garden of a small house in northern Serbia.
Though he was carrying two handguns, he surrendered without a fight. He was extradited for trial in the Netherlands.
In 2011, a tribunal judge entered pleas of not guilty for Mladic after he refused to cooperate and was forcibly removed from the courtroom at the judge’s order.
Mladic’s judgment day comes more than a year after Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic was sentenced to 40 years in prison for his role in the 1990s conflict.
Former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic was arrested in 2001 but died before his trial could be completed.
At a news conference following the verdict, Mladic’s son Darko said that his father felt sorry for every victim of the conflict. “General Mladic cannot accept responsibility for things he did not do,” Darko Mladic said. He argued that what had happened in Srebrenica was “legitimate.”