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'The Trial of Ratko Mladić:' Filmmaker and Law Professors Discuss Bosnian Genocide

The Boston College Center for Human Rights and International Justice sponsored a screening of The Trial of Ratko Mladić last Thursday night with remarks from filmmaker Henry Singer, BC Law School Professors Steven Koh and Allan Ryan, Jr., and Pennsylvania State University Professor of Law Dermot Groome, BC Law '85 on justice in a global context. 

Ratko Mladić is a Bosnian Serb who served as the Chief of Staff of the Army of Republika Srpska during the Bosnian War from 1992-1995, which was a part of the larger conflict surrounding the breakup of Yugoslavia during the 1990s. 

The Serbians, who are Orthodox Christians, had a large presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They conducted an ethnic cleansing campaign against Bosnian Muslims during the war. It was the first European crime to be formally judged as genocidal since the Second World War.

In July, 1996, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia issued an international arrest warrant for Mladić on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. He evaded capture for 16 years until his arrest on May 26, 2011. His subsequent trial was the subject of Singer’s documentary.

There were some technical difficulties with the film, so Koh gave his remarks as they were resolved. 

He centered them around the concept of justice itself, asking, “What is justice in a global order?” The field of international criminal law offers only a partial answer.

“In some ways, the international criminal law answer to what is justice is straightforward,” Koh explained. “It’s that all countries can agree that three crimes should never be perpetrated: genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.” 

He went on to speak about discovering his interest in the field as it allowed him to more easily see the line to justice than in other areas of the law.

Koh also spoke on the importance of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and its mission.

This praise was juxtaposed with acknowledgment of the flaws of the ICC. It has no police force and must depend on nations to arrest and hand over suspects. There are also nations that are not subject to the Rome Statute of the ICC and are not under its jurisdiction, including China, India, Russia, and the United States.

 “One thing is for certain. The legacy of the Yugoslavia and Rwanda tribunals lives on in all of us,” Koh concluded.

Mr. Singer spoke on the mixed reception of his film’s format. 

“We didn’t realize how controversial the film was. If you’re going to do a trial, it would make sense to cover both the prosecution perspective and the defense perspective,” Singer said.

BC Law Professor Joan Blum, who was in attendance, questioned this method.

 “As this movie becomes a part of the historical record, I think you might have let the defense team off a little too easy in a couple of areas,” she stated. She argued that the massacre of Serbians in World War II was “many years ago” and not a justification for Serbian crimes in the ‘90s. 

Singer responded using a hypothetical child of a Holocaust survivor as an example. Telling that child that the Holocaust was “many years ago,”, according to him, fails to recognize the lasting personal impact of those events. 

It should be noted that Blum is herself the child of Holocaust survivors.

Professor Groome—who was one of the lead prosecutors in the Mladić trial—finished his remarks by touching on what he perceived to be the failures of international justice as an institution.

“I guess where we fell short was, who has time to read a 3,000-page judgment and really digest it?” he said. “I guess it’s my hope that educators will come after us and make it a bit more digestible for people to understand exactly what we found.”

“There is one part of the narrative that all sides agree on and that’s that this was an utter catastrophe for the country and for everyone, everyone has suffered,” Groome stressed. 

“Hopefully, that common sharing of the disaster that this war was will give people pause before they bring the country again into another conflict.”

The Trial of Ratko Mladić is available on iTunes.

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