Mladic, Ratko

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Mladic, Ratko

[MARCH 12, 1942–]

Commander of the Bosnian Serb Army

Fueled by a deep-seated animosity hearkening from the days of the Ottoman Empire's control of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and the Croatian alliance with Nazi Germany, General Ratko Mladic rose through the ranks of the Bosnian Serb Army by appealing to Serbian nationalism. As Commander, Mladic left in his wake at least ten thousand dead and several hundred thousand forcibly transferred or internally displaced.

Born in Kalinovik, a small town in southern Bosnia, Mladic spent his early years training at the military academy in Belgrade for the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA), in which he later served as an officer. Between the summers of 1991 and 1992 Mladic's military authority and popularity increased exponentially. In June 1991 he was appointed Commander of the 9th Corps of the JNA, and within a year he was promoted to General Lieutenant and Chief of Staff of the Second Military District Headquarters of the JNA in Sarajevo. When the Bosnian Serb Assembly voted to create the army of the Serbian Republic of the BiH (VRS) in May 1992, Mladic was also appointed Commander of the Main Staff of the VRS, where he remained until December 1996. As commander of the military, he exclusively followed the directives of political leaders Radovan Karadzic and Slobodan Milosevic.

Some of the most egregious charges leveled against Mladic by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) stem from his campaign, as VRS Commander, to "ethnically cleanse" BiH of Bosnian Muslims and other non-Serbs. The fifteen-count indictment includes charges of genocide or the complicity to commit genocide against Bosnian Muslims; various crimes against humanity—such as persecution, extermination, murder, deportation, and inhumane acts—against Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Croats, and other non-Serbs; and the taking of United Nations (UN) hostages.

Although Mladic may not have physically committed the crimes with which he was charged, he remains responsible as commander of the army under the 1949 Geneva Conventions on the laws of war and the statute of the ICTY. Moreover, UN Security Council resolutions repeatedly warned that those who perpetrated or ordered the commission of war crimes would be held accountable. While Mladic denies the allegations, several of his subordinates have insisted that they were following Mladic's orders—most notably his most immediate subordinate, Radislav Krstic.

From 1992 to 1996 Mladic and Karadzic unleashed a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing to eradicate all non-Serbs from BiH. During this period continuous reports detailed the killings, rapes, forcible expulsion, imprisonment, cruel and inhumane treatment, and forced labor of non-Serbs. Numerous concentration camps were discovered along the Croatian border, reminiscent of camps the Nazis had established during the Holocaust. Private property and places of religious worship were common targets for misappropriation and destruction throughout BiH. The exactitude and similarity of the crimes repeated in both northwestern and eastern Bosnia strongly suggest that they were part and parcel of a widespread, systemic operation.

In July 1995 Mladic ignored Security Council Resolution 819 declaring Srebrenica and surrounding regions "safe areas." He not only commanded his troops to capture Srebrenica, but also enlisted the assistance of several Serbian paramilitary groups, ostensibly to distance himself from any wrongdoing. Thousands of Muslim men were rounded up and executed in the tenday fall of Srebrenica, under the pretext of capturing Muslim soldiers and "suspects of war crimes." More than twenty thousand Muslim women, children, and the elderly were forcibly expelled. The mass graves later exhumed in the farms and rural villages surrounding Srebrenica indicate that the killings were part of a well-rehearsed and organized plan. Individual acts of revenge could not have resulted in thousands of deaths, nor would the manner of death have been so eerily similar—a single gunshot wound to the head.

Despite the UN's warnings, the ICTY's indictment, and his alleged complicity in the atrocities Krstic committed from 1992 to 1996, Mladic has never seen the inside of a courtroom. Initially he lived openly in BiH—an affront to the tribunal's authority—but after the arrest of Milosevic in 2001 Mladic fled into hiding. Without increased international political pressure mounted against his staunch allies, Mladic is unlikely to face prosecution either at home or through extradition to the ICTY, and will live with impunity.

SEE ALSO Bosnia and Herzegovina; Ethnic Cleansing; Humanitarian Intervention; Incitement; Karadzic, Radovan; Massacres; Mass Graves; Nationalism; Peacekeeping; Safe Zones; Superior (or Command) Responsibility; Yugoslavia


Ball, Howard (1999). Prosecuting War Crimes and Genocide. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.

BBC News (August 2, 2001). "General Guilty of Bosnia Genocide." Available from

Honig, Jan Willemand, Norbert Both (1996). Srebrenica, Record of a War Crime. New York: Penguin Books.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (2002). "Amended Indictment of Ratko Mladic." Available from

Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (2003). Available from

Stover, Eric, and Gilles Peress (1998). The Graves. New York: Scalo.

United Nations (1992). Security Council Resolution 771. Available from

United Nations (1993). Security Council Resolution 819. Available from

Jaspreet K. Saini