A UN tribunal has sentenced former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic to life in prison after convicting him of genocide and crimes against humanity for orchestrating massacres and ethnic cleansing during Bosnia's war.
- Ratko Mladic found guilty of 10 out of 11 charges
- Crimes are "among the most heinous known to humankind", judge says
- Mladic to appeal against his conviction
Mladic, 74, was hustled out of the court minutes before the verdict for screaming "this is all lies, you are all liars" after returning from what his son described as a blood pressure test, which delayed the reading-out of the judgment.
The UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) found Mladic guilty of 10 of 11 charges, including the slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica and the siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, in which more than 11,000 civilians were killed by shelling and sniper fire over 43 months.
Mladic's legal team said the conviction and life sentence would be appealed.
"It is certain we will file an appeal and the appeal will be successful," lawyer Dragan Ivetic told journalists.
The killings in Srebrenica of men and boys after they were separated from women and taken away in buses or marched off to be shot amounted to Europe's worst atrocity since World War II.
"The crimes committed rank among the most heinous known to humankind, and include genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity," Presiding Judge Alphons Orie said in reading out a summary of the judgment.
"Many of these men and boys were cursed, insulted, threatened, forced to sing Serb songs and beaten while awaiting their execution."
Mladic, the most notorious of the ICTY's cases along with ex-Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic and late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, had pleaded not guilty to all charges.
In its summary, the tribunal found Mladic "significantly contributed" to genocide committed in Srebrenica with the goal of destroying its Muslim population, "personally directed" the long bombardment of Sarajevo and was part of a "joint criminal enterprise" intending to purge Muslims and Croats from Bosnia.
In Geneva, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein called Mladic the "epitome of evil" and said his conviction after 16 years on the run and over four years of trial was a "momentous victory for justice".
"The prosecution of Mladic is the epitome of what international justice is all about," Mr Zeid said in a statement.
"Today's verdict is a warning to the perpetrators of such crimes that they will not escape justice, no matter how powerful they may be nor how long it may take."
'We need to look to the future'
Serbia's President, Aleksandar Vucic, said Serbia "respects the victims" and called for a focus on the future.
"I would like to call on everyone [in the region] to start looking into the future and not to drown in tears of the past … we need to look to the future … so we finally have a stable country," Mr Vucic told reporters.
Serbia, once the most powerful Yugoslav republic, is now democratic and seeking ties to the European Union.
Bosnian Prime Minister Denis Zvizdic said he hoped "those who still call for new divisions and conflicts will carefully read the verdict rendered today … in case that they are still no ready to face their past".
He was alluding to enduring separatism in post-war federal Bosnia's autonomous Serb region.
Srebrenica, near Bosnia's eastern border with Serbia, had been designated a "safe area" by the United Nations and was defended by lightly armed UN peacekeepers.
But they quickly surrendered when Mladic's forces stormed it on July 11, 1995.
The Dutch peacekeepers looked on helplessly as Serb forces separated men and boys from women, then sent them out of sight on buses or marched them away to be shot.
A bronzed and burly Mladic was filmed visiting a refugee camp in Srebrenica on July 12.
Lawyers argued for 15-year maximum sentence
"He was giving away chocolate and sweets to the children while the cameras were rolling, telling us nothing will happen and that we have no reason to be afraid," recalled Munira Subasic of the Mothers of Srebrenica group.
"After the cameras left he gave an order to kill whoever could be killed, rape whoever could be raped and finally he ordered us all to be banished and chased out of Srebrenica, so he could make an 'ethnically clean' city."
The remains of Ms Subasic's son Nermin and husband Hilmo were both found in mass graves by International Commission of Missing Persons (ICMP) workers.
The ICMP have identified some 6,900 remains of Srebrenica victims through DNA analysis.
Mladic's lawyers argued that his responsibility for murder and ethnic cleansing of civilians by Serb forces and allied paramilitaries was never established beyond reasonable doubt and he should get no more than 15 years if convicted.
The "Butcher of Bosnia" to his enemies, Mladic is still seen as a national hero by some Serbs for presiding over the swift capture of 70 per cent of Bosnia after its Serbs rose up against a Muslim-Croat declaration of independence from Yugoslavia.
Prosecutors said the ultimate plan pursued by Mladic, Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic and Milosevic was to purge Bosnia of non-Serbs — a strategy that became known as "ethnic cleansing" — and carve out a "Greater Serbia" in the ashes of federal Yugoslavia's disintegration.