In the first part of the opening statement at the trial of the former VRS Main Staff commander for double genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of laws and customs of war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the prosecution described Mladic’s role in the ethnic cleansing, the terror campaign in Sarajevo and taking UN staff hostage. The Trial Chamber reprimanded the prosecution for a ‘very significant disclosure error’, indicating it might decide to postpone the prosecution case

Dermot Groome, prosecutor at the Ratko Mladic trialDermot Groome, prosecutor at the Ratko Mladic trial

The prosecution began its opening statement at the trial of Ratko Mladic by describing the fate of two boys. Eight-year old Elvedin Pasic survived the massacre of more than 150 Muslims in the village of Vecici in November 1992. Dino Salihovic is the youngest victim among the six inhabitants of Srebrenica captured and executed in the village of Trnovo in July 1995 by the notorious Scorpions unit.

According to prosecutor Dermot Groome, the cases of Elvedin and Dino are inextricably tied with the ‘criminal intent to permanently eliminate Bosnian Muslims and Croats from the territories the Bosnian Serb leadership claimed as their own’.

The massacre in Vecici and the execution of prisoners in Trnovo are just some of the incidents which will be dealt with at the upcoming trial and the prosecution will ‘show beyond reasonable doubt that General Mladic had a hand in each of these crimes’.

At the beginning, the prosecution recalled that the twentieth anniversary of Mladic’s appointment as the Bosnian Serb army commander was marked four days ago. Mladic joined the joint criminal enterprise that was already in progress with alacrity. In the first part of the opening statement, prosecutor Groome covered three segments of the joint criminal enterprise: the ethnic cleansing which reached the scale of genocide in some parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992, the artillery and sniper terror campaign in Sarajevo and taking UN staff hostage and using them as human shields in May and June 1995. Prosecutor Peter McCloskey will talk about the final, fourth segment of the joint criminal enterprise tomorrow as the opening statement continues.

The foundation of all crimes listed in the indictment is the effort to separate the Serbs from non-Serbs, the prosecution contends. That was the first of the six strategic goals the Bosnian Serb Assembly declared on 12 May 1992. Mladic was appointed the commander of the VRS Main Staff at the same session. The remaining strategic goals – establishment of a corridor, elimination of the border between the Serb states on the Drina river, establishment of borders on the Una and Neretva rivers and access to the sea – are in the prosecution’s view just ‘different facets of the first’, demographic goal.

Even before Mladic assumed command of the Army, the Bosnian Serb leadership seized power in 35 municipalities in Bosnia and Herzegovina with support of the JNA, police and paramilitaries. The prosecution used a slide showing what Mladic achieved in the first two weeks as the commander, by the end of May 1992: shelling of Muslim villages in the Prijedor area, massacres in Sanski Most, establishment of detention camps in Prijedor, Foca, Vlasenica, Rogatica and Ilidza and large-scale shelling of Sarajevo. June 1992 began with another round of intense shelling of Sarajevo on Mladic’s orders, massacres continued in other municipalities and thousands of families were forced to leave their homes. In July 1992, the VRS took part in some of the cruelest instances of ethnic cleansing in Prijedor, the terror in prison camps continued, the ammunition depot in Mladic’s birthplace was turned into a detention facility. In August 1992, the arrests, murders and forcible transfer of people continued. The indictment lists 57 crimes committed until the end of November 1992 that General Mladic is responsible for, as the prosecution alleges.

The evidence about most, if not all, of those crimes has already been called at previous trials of various Bosnian Serb political and military leaders, including several officers who served in the Main Staff, and the corps and brigade commanders in the VRS. Today, the prosecution insisted on establishing a direct link between Mladic and perpetrators of crimes as well as on the fact that Mladic was well informed about all the developments in the field. Several entries in Mladic’s diaries were quoted, showing that Mladic was able to follow the results of ethnic cleansing in real time. In an entry on 8 January 1992, Mladic wrote that 17,000 Muslims lived in Kljuc. Several days later, the number dropped to 5,000. By 11 September 1992, there were 3,500 Muslims in the municipality. A few weeks later, as noted by Mladic in his diary, there were only 2,000 Muslim civilians left in the municipality. Mladic also wrote that he was told that the number of Muslims in Bratunac fell from the pre-war 64 percent to just two people. In the next entry, Mladic notes there ‘isn’t a single Muslim’ left there and that Bratunac is ‘a fully liberated town’.

Today, Mladic followed closely the opening statement, and was seen taking notes from time to time. Several times, Mladic nodded as if he was agreeing with what the prosecutor was saying about the crimes and Mladic’s role in them.

At the very beginning of the hearing, the Trial Chamber severely reprimanded the prosecution for, as judge Orie put it, a ‘very significant disclosure error’. The Trial Chamber is in process of determining whether to reconsider its decision of 3 May 2012 denying the defense’s motion to postpone the prosecution case or to take some other remedial measure, Judge Orie said. Prosecutor Groome admitted the prosecution was at fault and agreed it might affect the ability of the defense to prepare for the trial. The prosecution wasn’t opposed to ‘a reasonable postponement’ of its case, slated to begin on 29 May 2012.