Ratko Mladic’s defense witness Milorad Batinic brought to court a war-time photo of General Mladic because he wanted the accused to sign the photo for him. Everyone wants Elvis Presley’s autograph, Batinic explained asking, ‘why shouldn’t I have the general’s signature?’.

Milorad Batinić, defence witness at Rako Mladic trialMilorad Batinić, defence witness at Rako Mladic trial

Ratko Mladic’s defense witness Milorad Batinic worked as an interpreter for the UN observers. In his evidence, Batinic claimed that the incidents in the bread queue in Vase Miskina Street on 27 May 1992 and at Markale market on 5 February 1994 were ‘staged’ in a bid to blame the Serbs for them. In the cross-examination, the prosecution noted that the witness didn’t have any personal information on the incidents. Batinic didn’t know anything about the course and results of the official investigations conducted at the crime scenes.

As Batinic explained, he trusted the words of Spasoje Cojic, former commander of the Igman Brigade, and Marko Lugonja, chief of the SRK intelligence and security, who saidthe incidents in Vase Miskina Street and at Markale had been ‘staged’. As an interpreter, Batinic boasted, he was able to read people’s faces and see ‘when someone speaks the truth, and when they avoid doing it’. Batinic nevertheless admitted that he wasn’t involved in the investigations, that he didn’t see the relevant documents, and that he wasn’t an artillery expert.

The prosecution tendered into evidence the photo file that was produced in the investigation of the Vase Miskina Street incident. Mladic’s defense counsel objected, noting that the incident wasn’t listed in the indictment, which surprised the judges, as Batinic had talked about the incident in the examination-in chief. ‘If you say that the only reason you called this evidence was to tell the Trial Chamber about what the witness heard someone else say they had heard, I would say we should plan to be still working in 2020’, Judge Orie told defense counsel Lukic. The decision on the admission of the photo file into evidence will be rendered later.

Prosecutor Abeer Hasan confronted Batinic with reports drafted by the UN military observers, which claim that about 1,000 shells on the average were fired from the VRS positions on the city in June 1993. Prosecutor Hasan wanted to know if the witness was aware that in just one night – from 21 to 22 July 1993 – a total of 3,777 shells were fired on the city. The former interpreter replied that he ‘believes’ that there was shelling, that there was ‘fighting going on', adding ‘I don't know the exact number of shells’. The judges interpreted Batinic’s reply as an attempt to avoid answering the question.

At one point, Batinic produced a war-time photo of himself with General Mladic that he had brought with him to The Hague. Batinic wanted the accused to sign the photo for him. Everyone wants Elvis Presley’s autograph, Batinic said, ‘so why shouldn’t I have the general’s signature?’. The comparison piqued Judge Orie’s interest; Elvis Presley was a star, the judge remarked. It was logical forfans to want to have Presley’s autograph, Judge Orie went on, and this ‘could give us an impression that you are Ratko Mladic’s fan’. Batinic explained that he was not Mladic’s fan. He wanted to have the signature because he was a historian, and Mladic was a ‘historical figure’, the witness explained. Moreover, Batinic said, he still had a glass from the first meeting between Mladic and the military observers in late 1992.

During Batinic’s evidence the judges repeatedly cautioned Mladic not to speak loudly in court. The accused didn’t comply with the instructions, and the judges had him removed from court until the end of Batinic’s testimony. ‘If Elvis is a star, then I am a 'grande' star’, Mladic shouted out on his way out of the courtroom.

Batinic told the judges he had two wishes but they were not granted today. He wantedto have coffee with the young prosecutor Hasan, and to shake hands with Judge Orie at the end of his evidence. The witness can still harbor hope that the Dutch judge would accept his invitation to come to Sarajevo, and to go sight-seeing with the witness.