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Former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic gestures prior to the pronouncement of his appeal judgement at the UN International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) in The Hague, Netherlands on Tuesday. Image Credit: REUTERS

BERLIN: An international court has rejected an appeal by former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic against convictions for genocide and other crimes during the bloodiest conflict in Europe since World War II.

Five judges at The Hague upheld the 78-year-old’s guilty verdicts for atrocities including genocide and crimes against humanity during the Bosnian war in the 1990s amid the tumultuous breakup of Yugoslavia. He was handed a life sentence for the crimes in 2017.

Mladic’s appeal, against both the charges and the sentencing, was dismissed in its “entirety,” according to the judgment. President Joe Biden described it as a “historic judgment” that showed that those who commit war crimes will be held accountable.

“Mladic ranks among the most notorious war criminals in modern history. He intentionally used his military command to attack, kill, torture, rape and expel innocent civilians for no reason other than their ethnicity and religion.

- chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz

The verdict “reinforces a shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world,” the White House said in a statement.

It closed the door on potential appeal for Mladic, dubbed the “Butcher of Bosnia,” and marked the end of the last trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which the UN Security Council set up a quarter-century ago.

His crimes were among the most heinous of the conflicts that wracked the Balkans in the 1990s, and included directing the July 1995 massacre of around 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica, a supposed U.N. safe haven. The killings were perpetrated by the Bosnian Serb Army of Republika Srpska, under Mladic’s command.

His lawyers had argued that he was not responsible for the actions of his forces. But the court found that his role was instrumental in the massacre, saying that the crimes would not have been committed without his actions.

“Mladic ranks among the most notorious war criminals in modern history,” said chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz. “He intentionally used his military command to attack, kill, torture, rape and expel innocent civilians for no reason other than their ethnicity and religion.”

“His name should be consigned to the list of history’s most depraved and barbarous figures,” Brammertz said.

Another important step to provide justice to the victims

Mladic was also convicted for his role in the nearly four-year siege of Sarajevo, when Bosnian Serb forces and the Yugoslav army encircled the city, cut off electricity and water, and fired artillery and sniper rounds from nearby hilltops. Thousands of civilians died.

An appeal by the prosecution for Mladic to also be convicted of an additional charge of genocide for ethnic cleansing during the earlier days of the war was also dismissed by the court, but Mladic was held accountable for those crimes in 2017 under lesser charges.

“The final ruling by the international tribunal in the case against Ratko Mladic is another important step to provide justice to the victims,” Charles Michel, president of the European Council wrote on Twitter. “It will help us all put the painful past behind us and to put the future first.”

It comes a decade after Mladic was arrested, hiding at a cousin’s house in northern Serbia after 16 years on the run.

Some of the survivors of the war gathered outside the court Tuesday, and Brammertz thanked witnesses that came forward.

He said that one of the first people he had seen after the judgment was a mother who lost more than 20 members of her family at Srebrenica: her father, husband, brothers and nephews. “While this judgment is not bringing back their loved ones, it is extremely important.”