Despite the Trial Chamber’s binding order, Ratko Mladic refused to give evidence in Radovan Karadzic’s defense, deserting the front line defended by the former RS president against the Tribunal’s prosecutors. Both Karadzic and Mladic are on trial for almost identical charges: double genocide and other crimes committed during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Ratko Mladic, witness at the Radovan Karadzic trialRatko Mladic, witness at the Radovan Karadzic trial

The announcement that Ratko Mladic would testify at Radovan Karadzic’s trial renewed the interest among the media, which had been flagging for some time. Dozens of reporters gathered at the Tribunal to witness the hotly anticipated confrontation of the two erstwhile comrades in arms. This was to be their first public encounter since the end of the war, after they both went on run, evading justice for many years. There was no courtroom drama, though.

Ratko Mladic complied with the binding order compelling him to testify and appeared in court, but he refused to answer Karadzic’s questions. He had received the questions beforehand. They pertained to the execution of the prisoners in Srebrenica, the artillery and sniper terror campaign in Sarajevo and the ethnic cleansing of Muslims and Croats from the territories under the Bosnian Serb control. According to Mladic’s lawyer Branko Lukic, the main reason why Mladic refused to testify was his poor memory. Mladic is not able to distinguish between fact and fiction, Lukic explained. As a result, he tends to fill the holes in memory with fabrications. He is convinced those fabrications are true. The defense counsel also claimed that by compelling him to testify, the Tribunal violated Mladic’s right to remain silent during his trial.

Karadzic’s legal advisor insisted that Mladic testify, saying that he was the ‘only person in whole world who knows what happened’. ‘This is Dr Karadzic’s front line against the prosecution’, Robinson argued, urging Mladic to ‘make an effort’ and answer the questions of the accused. As Robinson put it, the accused ‘is not fighting only for his own freedom but also for the continued existence of Republika Srpska’. According to prosecutor Tieger, Robinson’s appeal for the defense of Republika Srpska constituted ‘inappropriate encouragement of the witness’.

After the Trial Chamber concluded that the health of the unwilling witness wasn’t so bad, Mladic refused to make a solemn declaration, ‘with all due respect for President Karadzic’, saying by way of an explanation, ‘I don’t recognize this court’ which is a ‘satanic court’. In lieu of his evidence, Mladic offered to read a seven-page written statement. The Trial Chamber rejected Mladic’s proposal. Mladic finally agreed to read out the solemn declaration. Before actually beginning his testimony, Mladic asked the security guards to bring in his ‘teeth’: he had left his dentures in his cell in the UN Detention Unit.

At the beginning of the cross-examination, Karadzic asked Mladic to read out the seven prepared pages, but the Trial Chamber intervened to prevent it. When Karadzic asked his first question about Mladic’s military career, Mladic mentioned some of the posts he had held as a JNA officer. And that was all he said. He refused to answer any of the questions that followed, reading out the same words from a paper he had brought with him. In line with the advice of his lawyers, Mladic read out, he exercised his right not to testify because it might endanger his health and have a negative impact on his case. Mladic offered to read the prepared statement adding that it would be ‘of interest’ as it pertained to some of Karadzic’s questions.

After a brief consultation, the judges decided not to force Mladic to respond to Karadzic’s questions as it was likely that Mladic might incriminate himself in his own trial. On his way out of the courtroom, Mladic told Karadzic ‘Thank you, Radovan, I do apologize, these idiots won’t allow me to…’. It remained unclear what he meant with his apology: whether it as a reference to the fact that Mladic wasn’t able to read out the statement he had prepared, or to the fact that he had deserted the front line, leaving Radovan Karadzic to defend himself and Republika Srpska’s existence alone.