On the first day of its closing arguments, Ratko Mladic’s defense argued that the prosecution had failed to meet the burden of proof. According to lawyers Branko Lukic and Dragan Ivetic, the prosecution did not prove Mladic’s guilt ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ and the accused should therefore be acquitted on all counts in the indictment

Branko Lukić, defence lawyer of Ratko MladićBranko Lukić, defence lawyer of Ratko Mladić

According to Branko Lukic, lead defense counsel, the prosecutors prosecutors ‘distorted and misrepresented the facts’ in their case against his client. Lukic alleged that the Trial Chamber had prevented the defense from calling witnesses whose evidence would have proven it. The only way to rectify the error is to acquit Mladic, the defense stated on the first day of the defense’s closing argument.

The Tribunal has tried to make sure that the responsibility for the crimes is individualized, in a bid to avoidblaming entire ethnic or religious communities. In the past two decades, however, it was often the accused, especially high-ranking ones, tried hard to ‘share’ their blame with their ethnic community.

That is exactly what happened today in the case against Ratko Mladic, former commander of the VRS Main Staff, who is on trial for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in the BH war. According to Mladic’s defense counsel, Mladic is ‘guilty because he is a Serb and because he tried to defend his country and nation in a war instigated by others’. The army headed by the accused ‘didn’t operate in a vacuum, with Muslims and Croats being innocent’, the defense counsel noted. On the contrary, Mladic’s army had to confront many enemies: the Patriot League, the BH Army, the Croatian Defense Council, the Croatian Army, UNPROFOR and NATO.

As the defense argued, Alija Izetbegovic was responsible for the war. Mladic’s defense council depicted Izetbegovic as a ‘predecessor of ISIL’. Izetbegovic’s goal was to establish a united Islamic state consisting of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Sandzak. The defense showed short videos depicting the establishment of the El Jihadi unit, Izetbegovic’s visit to the Mujaheed honour guard and the decapitation of captured Serbs. ‘Today ISIL operates in the same way’, the defense counsel concluded.

The defense doesn’t deny that ‘unfortunate local crimes happened, but they can’t be linked to Ratko Mladic’. Also, the crimes didn’t always occur in the way described in the indictment. Mladic, the defense counsel added, ‘was blamed for the crimes of the other side – Alija Izetbegovic’s side – including the shelling Sarajevo in the locations such as Sirokaca or Markale’. ‘Rogue VRS members’ or members of the police and paramilitary units committed the crimes outside of Mladic’s jurisdiction. Therefore, Mladic can’t be held responsible for that, the defense argued.

On the first day of the defense’s closing arguments, Branko Lukic and Dragan Ivetic contested in broadest strokes the allegations about the ethnic cleansing and genocide in municipalities,the terror campaign in Sarajevo, taking UN staff hostage, forcible transfer of women and children and the killing of more than 7,000 men and boys in Srebrenica. The defense will analyze the issues in greater detail next week. Today, Ivetic noted that the prosecution had not met the burden of proof and had failed to prove Mladic’s responsibility beyond reasonable doubt. In fact, as Ivetic said, they tried to shift the burden of proof on Mladic’s defense. According to Ivetic, the prosecution failed to prove all four joint criminal enterprises Mladic is charged with. Consequently, Mladic, Karadzic and other co-perpetrators listed in the indictment should all be acquitted as they are clearly not guilty.

The defense will continue presenting its closing arguments next Monday and Tuesday.