Survivors of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide and human rights organisations welcome the sentencing of former Bosnian Serbian commander Ratko Mladic to life imprisonment after he was found guilty of genocide and war crimes in the Bosnian war.

A woman mourns over a relative's grave at the memorial centre of Potocari near Srebrenica on November 22, 2017.
A woman mourns over a relative's grave at the memorial centre of Potocari near Srebrenica on November 22, 2017. ( AFP )

"Thank you God! I kiss you God, for the sake of our sons!" cried Nedziba Salihovic, jumping to her feet in joy as a UN court on Wednesday sentenced Bosnian Serb wartime commander Ratko Mladic to life in prison.

Mladic, widely known as the "Butcher of Bosnia," was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity for orchestrating massacres and ethnic cleansing during Bosnia's war.

Salihovic, like many other Bosnian Muslims, had long waited for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to deliver its judgement against the 74-year-old former general.

"Mladic will die in The Hague! I'm so happy that justice has been done!" said Salihovic, who lost her husband, father and son in Srebrenica.

"After 20 years Mladic will die in The Hague because he slaughtered my son," she said, adding that she had only ever managed to locate fragments of his body in several mass graves.

Families who lost their loved ones in the 1995 Srebrenica genocide said there was no adequate punishment for ex-Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic, but that justice was served.

TRT World's Soraya Lennie reports from The Hague.

"Even if he lives 1,000 times and is sentenced 1,000 times to life in prison, justice would still not be served," Ajsa Umirovic, who lost 42 relatives in the Srebrenica genocide, said ahead of the verdict.

Their husbands and other male relatives perished when Bosnian Serb forces, commanded by Mladic, took over the UN-protected area of Srebrenica on July 11, 1995.

Bosnian women react upon hearing the sentence at the end of former Bosnian Serb military chief Gen. Ratko Mladic's trial at the memorial centre in Potocari, near Srebrenica, Bosnia, November 22, 2017.
Bosnian women react upon hearing the sentence at the end of former Bosnian Serb military chief Gen. Ratko Mladic's trial at the memorial centre in Potocari, near Srebrenica, Bosnia, November 22, 2017. ( AP )

Vasva Smajlovic 74, who lost husband and a son-in-law said no punishment for Mladic would ease her pain.

Smajlovic lost more than 50 members of her extended family in the massacre, she said through tears while watching the live broadcast of the Mladic's verdict.

Her sister-in-law however said that justice was served when the UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia pronounced Mladic guilty and sentenced him for life in prison.

Bida Smajlovic, who last saw her husband when he tried to flee Srebrenica through woods in July 1995, said that nothing could compensate her pain, but at least justice was done.

Her husband's remains were later found in a mass grave and buried in 2005.

Bosnian artist Almir Dervisevic was one of many protesters outside the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on Wednesday.

Wrapped in barbed wire and the flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dervisevic called for peace, truth and justice.

Bosnian Prime Minister Denis Zvizdic said he hoped that "those who still call for new divisions and conflicts will carefully read the verdict rendered today case that they are still not ready to face their past."

'Mothers of Srebrenica'

After the verdict was delivered, victims and members of the group 'Mothers of Srebrenica' said they hoped the verdict would help reconciliation, even though they regretted Mladic was not found guilty of all charges.

Fikret Alic, who says he was beaten and tortured with thousands of Muslims and Croats in a Serb detention camp, said he was satisfied with the life imprisonment sentence.

A photograph of Alic's sunken face over a skeletal torso staring through the barbed wire at the Trnopolje detention camp became a symbol of the war's brutality.

Reactions of Serbs

Ex-Bosnian Serb general Mladic's conviction for war crimes did not come as a surprise, Serbia's Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said on Wednesday.

"We need to look to the future, so we finally have a stable country," Brnabic told reporters during a visit to Oslo.

"We need to leave the past behind," she said.

Aleksandar Vucic, president of Serbia whose late nationalist strongman Milosevic was Mladic's patron but died in a tribunal prison before the end of his trial, said Serbia "respects the victims" and called for a focus on the future.

"I would like to call on everyone (in the region) to start looking into the future and not to drown in tears of the past... We need to look to the we finally have a stable country," Vucic told reporters when asked about the verdict.

But while the Muslim women watched the verdict at their homes and at the Potocari memorial centre for the massacre victims, placards with a Mladic's portrait bearing a slogan "You are Our Hero" were plastered in Srebrenica and nearby town of Bratunac.

No Serbs in Srebrenica were willing to comment on the verdict.

Bosnian Muslim leader urges Serbs to 'accept the truth'

Bosnian Muslim leader Bakir Izetbegovic urged ethnic Serbs to "accept the truth" after a UN court announced it verdict on Wednesday. 

"Accepting of the truth is the only path, the only way, that the future in this country will become better that the past," Izetbegovic told a press conference in  Sarajevo.

Polarisation between Serbs and Bosnian Muslims

The Bosnian Serbs see Mladic as their hero and defender, and a deep polarisation on the war past between them and their Muslim Bosniak neighbours shows that reconciliation in Bosnia has been very slow.

Separately on Wednesday, the Bosnian police arrested two Bosnian Serbs accused of war crimes committed against Muslims and Croats in the northwestern town of Prijedor.

"One day history will show that we have known the truth all along," said Bosnian Serb military veteran Zeljko Dacic, 52.

On the eve of the verdict Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik said: "Whatever the verdict ... Ratko Mladic remains a legend for the Serb people."

"He (Mladic) was condemned even before he arrived in The Hague," said Neven Krunic, a 61-year-old man.

'Epitome of evil'

In Geneva, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein called Mladic the "epitome of evil" and said his conviction after 16 years as an indicted fugitive and over four years of trial was a "momentous victory for justice".

"Today's verdict is a warning to the perpetrators of such crimes that they will not escape justice, no matter how powerful they may be nor how long it may take," Zeid said in a statement.

NATO welcomes ruling

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday hailed the war crimes verdict against Mladic as a victory for the rule of law.

"I welcome the ruling of the UN Criminal Tribunal against Ratko Mladic," Stoltenberg said in a statement. "This shows that the rule of law is working and those responsible for war crimes are held to account."

Stoltenberg said Mladic was guilty of "appalling crimes against civilians" including the 1995 massacre of almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica.

"I hope that today’s ruling will move the region further down the path of peace and reconciliation," Stoltenberg said.

EU calls for reconciliation 

The EU on Wednesday called on Balkan countries to "honour the victims" of war crimes by working towards reconciliation, after Mladic was found guilty of genocide.

The EU refused to comment in detail on the Mladic verdict but said it recalled "some of the darkest, most tragic events" of recent European history, including the 1995 massacre in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, where troops under his command slaughtered almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys.

"The European Union trusts that all the countries in the region are determined and committed to work towards reconciliation, regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations," the bloc said in a statement.

"We expect all political leaders in the region to honour the victims by promoting and respecting these commitments."

What happened in Srebrenica?

The UN Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) found Mladic guilty of 10 of 11 charges, including the slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica and the siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, in which more than 11,000 civilians were killed by shelling and sniper fire over 43 months.

Mladic, 74, is the most notorious of the ICTY's cases along with ex-Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic and late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and had pleaded not guilty to all charges.

"The crimes committed rank among the most heinous known to humankind, and include genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity," Presiding Judge Alphons Orie said in reading out a summary of the judgment.

"Many of these men and boys were cursed, insulted, threatened, forced to sing Serb songs and beaten while awaiting their execution," he said.

The court also found Mladic responsible for the Sarajevo seige, another of the darkest episodes of the 1990s inter-ethnic conflict that killed more than 100,000 people.

“I am a very old man ... and I am not important,” Mladic told the tribunal. “It matters what kind of legacy I will leave behind, among my people.”

Mladic was arrested in 2011 after 16 years on the run.

Source: Reuters