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Mladic In Serb Prison After 16 Years On The Run


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

One of the world's most wanted fugitives is in a Serbian prison today after 16 years in hiding. Ratko Mladic faces charges of war crimes and genocide, including the slaughter of thousands of men and boys when he was head of the Bosnian Serb army.

A court in Belgrade ruled today that Mladic can be extradited to stand trial before a U.N. tribunal in the Hague, despite claims that he's too sick.

To talk more about the case, we've turned to Adam Smith. He's an international lawyer and author of "After Genocide: Bringing the Devil to Justice." I asked him about some of the legal challenges.

How will prosecutors go about building their case? I'm wondering if it's going to be tricky given that much of the evidence will, of course, be more than 15 years old at this point.

Mr. ADAM SMITH (International Lawyer): That's true. It's always tricky and especially because a genocide case is always very complicated. I think there are a few things on the prosecutor's favor in some respects. One, that Srebrenica was a genocide is now well accepted.

KELLY: Srebrenica, this is the city, of course, where there was a massacre back in 1995. Something in the order of seven, eight thousand people killed.

Mr. SMITH: That's right. The two crimes, essentially - although there are several - but the two big ones are going to be the Srebrenica massacre and then the siege of Sarajevo.

That the Srebrenica�massacre was a genocide has been shown by the International Court of Justice and frankly by global public opinion for some time. I think that'll actually be an easier aspect of the case.

That being said, in the Milosevic case...

KELLY: Slobodan Milosevic, the former president.

Mr. SMITH: ...they tried to prove too much. And they built this immense case -66 count indictment - and it was so much that essentially - that he died before it was even finished.

KELLY: And are they helped at all by, for example, all of the TV footage that was out - that has been out there from the '90s? You know, pictures of Ratko Mladic right there doing horrendous things that have been captured on tape.

Mr. SMITH: Without a doubt. Without a doubt. I mean, evidence like that is powerful. I think it'll be a very hard case for Mladic to get out from.

That being said, there are a host of procedural and other sort of histrionics that Mladic could employ if he wants to put a wrench in the system. And I'm guessing he will try.

KELLY: Well, so tell us a little bit more in terms of what you think Mladic's defense will look like. How is that going to play out?

Mr. SMITH: Well, certainly from a lay perspective it's going to be very hard for him to say he wasn't there and he wasn't involved. But unless there is evidence of him actually pulling a trigger, right - as soon as you step back from that direct commission of a crime you incorporate a lot of complexity and a lot of confusion and less certainty in the case. And so I'm guessing that's what he's going to say. He certainly can't say I was only following orders. That...

KELLY: Because he was giving the orders.

Mr. SMITH: He was giving the orders. And even if he was, that's not going to have much weight anywhere. But I would imagine he's going to somehow separate himself from the genocide and genocidal intent. In other words, did he intend to wipe out a large portion or a part of the Bosnia community? I'm guessing that's probably where the defense will rest.

KELLY: However his trial ultimately plays out, do you see at least the possibility here, the hope that this may bring some sort of closure to all of the atrocities that we saw during the war in Yugoslavia?

Mr. SMITH: I think that's - that would be a heavy lift for any trial, and this trial perhaps in particular. The closure, I think, in some respects is too little, too late. I mean Srebrenica happened in July 1995, 16 years ago.

I'm hopeful that there can be some closure. But in as much that the Serbs themselves and the Croats or the Bosniacs wouldn't accept it as closure, then the reality still will be different on the ground than it necessarily would be in the Hague.

KELLY: Adam Smith, thanks very much.

Mr. SMITH: Thank you.

KELLY: That's Adam Smith. He's the author of "After Genocide: Bringing the Devil to Justice." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.