Two of Mladic’s defense witnesses claim that the accused was a humane and gentle man who helped Srebrenica civilians in the period before 1995. To contest those claims, the prosecutor presented Mladic’s orders prohibiting the passage of humanitarian aid convoys, and ordering his troops to attack the enclave and ‘kill anyone carrying arms’. Mladic was annoyed when the Trial Chamber decided to remove him from the courtroom because he was making loud comments. Mladic ended up shouting at the presiding judge

Simo Bilbija, defence witness at Rako Mladic trialSimo Bilbija, defence witness at Rako Mladic trial

Simo Bilbija was the first of the three witnesses called by Ratko Mladic’s defense today. The witness is a medical doctor who worked in the military hospital in Sokolac. In his statement to the defense and in the examination-in-chief Bilbija described the accused general as a good soldier and a humane person. According to Bilbija, Mladic ordered Serb doctors to treat all patients regardless of their ethnicity.

To stress just how humane Mladic was Bilbija told the judges that in April 1993 he was ordered by Mladic to help evacuate the wounded from Srebrenica to Tuzla by helicopter. About 160 Muslims were evacuated in a one-day operation; some of them were men of military age. In the cross-examination, prosecutor Amir Zec put it to the witness that the evacuation had to be carried out because of the unbearable conditions in Srebrenica. The witness admitted that he had seen just how crowded the town was in the one day he had spent in Srebrenica. However, Bilbija didn’t know if the people were forced to live rough in the streets as the prosecutor alleged.

Bilbija admitted that the conditions in the Health Center he visited were bad. But, the situation was the same in medical facilities in the Serb-held territories. Asked if he knew that the Srebrenica civilians were being killed by the Serb artillery in those days, the witness replied that he saw a single shell impact site. To counter the claims that Mladic was humane, the prosecutor noted that one month before the evacuation, he prohibited the passage of convoys organized by the UN, the Red Cross and other humanitarian organization to Srebrenica. Bilbija claimed he had not seen the order before.

At the end of today’s examination prosecutor Zec showed a letter sent by the witness to Mladic in September 1996. At the time Mladic was a fugitive from international justice. The letter begins with the words ‘Dear boss’. Bilbija goes on to praise Mladic, adding that he was glad to see Mladic’s ‘spirit remains strong despite all the problems’. The prosecutor asked the witness if he still felt the same ‘love and support’ today. ‘I am sitting here because I do’, Bilbija replied.

Mladic followed that part of the cross-examination via video link from his cell because he was removed from court at the end of the first session. He had been talking loudly and mentioning the prosecutor’s name. Defense counsel Lukic explained that Mladic had asked about prosecutor Amir Zec’s origin. Presiding judge Orie announced the Trial Chamber’s decision to remove the accused from the courtroom. Mladic commented on the presiding judge’s decision, shouting out, ‘OK, Orie, just you go on playing the prosecutor’.

Mladic returned to the courtroom just as the next witness began his evidence. Zarko Cvijic served as Mladic’s close protection for a year, from September 1992. In his statement to the defense Cvijic said that the accused was a ‘particularly mild man but his appearance was coarse’. According to Cvijic, Mladic was kind to his subordinated soldiers and to non-Serb civilians. Today the witness described in court how a Muslim man of military age was taken out of the refugee column moving from Srebrenica towards Tuzla, at a check point in Konjevic Polje. The man was brought before Mladic. As Cvijic recounted, Mladic told the man not to be afraid and to move on to Tuzla together with the others.

Prosecutor Edgerton put it to the witness in the cross-examination that the people had fled Srebrenica because the Serb Army had shelled them and held them under siege without any food. The witness agreed with the allegation to an extent. The prosecutor also showed an intercepted conversation between two Drina Corps officers who say that Mladic ordered them to attack Srebrenica and to ‘kill anyone bearing arms’ in the town. The witness replied that he had never seen such an order.

As the hearing drew to a close, the defense called former soldier in the Prijedor Brigade, Ratko Milojica.

Simo Bilbija, defence witness at Rako Mladic trial
Zarko Cvijic, defence witness at Rako Mladic trial
Ratko Milojica, defence witness at Rako Mladic trial