Why the war crimes verdict of 'Butcher of Bosnia' Ratko Mladić matters to so many

On Wednesday, a UN court will hand down a verdict at the war crimes trial of Ratko Mladić, a former general of the Bosnian Serb army.

Known as the "Butcher of Bosnia", Mladic is charged with 11 counts of genocide and war crimes during the 1992-1995 Balkan wars. Among those is the accusation that Mladic was a central figure in the Srebrenica massacre of 1995, when some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed.

ITV News correspondent Penny Marshall, who covered the conflict and helped to expose the brutal concentration camps set up by Radovan Karadzic, has travelled to The Hague for the verdict.

This verdict matters hugely to the hundreds of thousands who want justice for the innocent blood spilt in the 1990s in the Balkans.

Many of the survivors of the Bosnian war will be here in The Hague on Wednesday to watch.

They want justice. They always have.

And this is their last chance, their last trial, history’s final verdict on the genocidal crimes they survived and which shamed all of Europe.

The Bosnian war wasn’t very far away and it wasn’t very long ago.

It left 100,000 dead in the 1990s, mainly Bosnian Muslims.

They are still finding the bodies.

The War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague was set up as a direct result of the war being witnessed by a disbelieving and horrified world.

It was hoped that what the politicians couldn’t stop, the lawyers could at least punish.

And the lawyers have done their best.

The Bosnian war left 100,000 dead. Credit: AP

I remember being there and seeing their satisfaction when they sent down their first criminal.

Dusko Tadic was a lowly village thug who became a sadistic concentration camp guard. They hoped his conviction would be lead to bigger fish, and it did.

The Yugoslav court was the first to indict a sitting head of state in Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic, and the first to recognise sexual violence as a crime of war. The Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic is serving a 40-year sentence for genocide and crimes against humanity.

Penny Marshall met Radovan Karadzic in 1992. Credit: ITN

In a quarter of a century more than 4,500 witnesses have provided 2.5 million pages of harrowing accounts of murder and rape. The Tribunal has issued 161 indictments and secured 83 convictions. It has recorded crimes that history cannot deny.

But no process is perfect.

There are still some Serbs who regard the tribunal with contempt, seeing it as an instrument of NATO.

There are some Bosnians who regard it as weak, complaining of inadequate sentences and too few arrests.

The memorial-cemetery complex to the victims of the Srebrenica massacre. Credit: PA

The blood-drenched fields of Bosnia seem a world away from the crisp clean court room in the Hague. There, a victim’s memory of a terrible and bloody war is still too often met by a perpetrator’s denial.

Reconciliation seems a long way off

But without criminal accountability there can be no reconciliation, and The Hague has named the guilty and recorded their crimes in history.

That may not be enough justice but it’s at least some justice, and without it no one can move on from these terrible crimes.

Mladić pictured at his initial court appearance in 2011. Credit: AP