Appeals judges are preparing to hand down a verdict against former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic, ending the last Bosnian genocide trial before the UN court for the former Yugoslavia.
Mladic, 78, led Bosnian Serb forces during the 1992-95 Bosnian War.
Known as the “Butcher of Bosnia”, he was convicted in 2017 on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes including terrorising the civilian population of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo during a 43-month siege and the killing of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica, Bosnia, in 1995.
It was the worst massacre on European soil since World War II and remains the only episode of genocide in the continent recognised by two international courts.
Widows and mothers of victims will be in court to hear Tuesday’s judgment by a five-judge panel led by Zambian Presiding Judge Prisca Matimba Nyambe.
Judges will start reading out their ruling at 3pm local time (13:00 GMT).
The verdict comes after 25 years of trials at the ad hoc United Nations war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia which convicted 90 people.
It is widely considered to be one of the predecessors of the International Criminal Court, the world’s first permanent war crimes court, also seated in The Hague.
UN prosecutor Serge Brammertz stressed the importance of the Mladic ruling for victims who live with the trauma of the 1990s conflict daily.
“If you speak to the survivors, the mothers (of Srebrenica) who lost their husbands, their sons: their lives really stopped on the day of the genocide,” he told journalists ahead of the verdict.
Mladic was first indicted in July 1995.
After the war in Bosnia ended, he went into hiding and was finally arrested in 2011 and handed over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia by the then-ruling pro-Western government of Serbia.
In the Bosnian capital Sarajevo residents lamented that Mladic was still seen as a hero in the Serb-dominated region of the ethnically divided country.
“Twenty-five years later, I feel as if the war is not over,” said Mela Softic, 37, a marketing specialist who spent her childhood in besieged Sarajevo.
Serb war veteran Milije Radovic from the eastern Bosnian town of Foca told The Associated Press news agency: “I cannot accept any verdict … For me, he is an icon. And for the Serb people, he is an icon.”
Lawyers for Mladic appealed his conviction and argued the former general could not be held responsible for possible crimes committed by his subordinates. They asked for an acquittal or a retrial.
Prosecutors want Mladic’s conviction to be upheld, along with his life sentence.