Ratko Mladic's guilty verdict comes after 22 years of anguish and heartache
The sentencing of the butcher of Bosnia gives hope to victims of war crimes
It was the mothers weeping in an ante room as the verdict was announced who brought home what it meant to finally bring Ratko Mladic to justice.
Thronging in their hundreds at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, many clutching photos of their loved ones, they represented just a fraction of the families of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys murdered by Bosnian-Serb forces in the Srebrenica massacre.
The bloodshed in July 1995 was the worst atrocity committed on European soil since the Second World War. Its chief instigator, the army general who was also behind the three-year siege of Sarajevo, remained unrepentant to the last, shouting: “This is a lie” at a panel of UN judges as they described how his victims were “systematically murdered, the vast majority over just a few days”.
Those mothers, who campaigned long and hard to have their day in court, knew the truth. One, Munira Subasic, recalled the “butcher of Bosnia” handing out sweets and chocolates to children in the supposed UN safe haven of Srebrenica – then “after the cameras left, he gave an order to kill whoever could be killed, rape whoever could be raped and finally he ordered us all to be banished and chased out of Srebrenica so he could make an ethnically clean city.”
Many of the families who gathered at The Hague war crimes trial might never find out what really happened to their loved ones but hearing Mladic declared guilty of 10 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity after 22 years of anguish and heartache will, at long last, give them some sense of closure. Yesterday represented a day they thought might never come, when the man responsible for a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Bosnian Muslims, in a war which left 100,000 dead and 2.2 million displaced, was sentenced to life in prison for his "heinous crimes". With Mladic behind bars and his cohorts either dead or serving time, the tribunal can finally close for good.
While long-suffering Bosnian Muslims can, once and for all, lay their ghosts to rest, one can only hope other victims of alleged war crimes get to do the same, from the hundreds of thousands victimised by the Syrian regime and its president Bashar Al Assad to the thousands of Yazidis enslaved and subjected to “unimaginable violence”, to those who fear ISIL foreign fighters responsible for unspeakable atrocities will simply disappear into the slipstream after returning home and never face justice. All those brutalised in the name of war deserve an equal chance to bring the perpetrators to book. Tragically, all too often, they continue their savagery with impunity.