Return to Transcripts main page


A Conversation About Ratko Mladic, the Butcher of Bosnia. Aired 2- 2:30p ET

Aired December 28, 2017 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: It took a long time but this year, Ratko Mladic, the commander behind massacres of Srebrenica and across Bosnia was

finally convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity. My memories of meeting the so called 'Butcher of Bosnia' decades ago and covering the

worst atrocity in Europe since World War II.


AMANPOUR: Good Evening everyone and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London with the global perspective. This year, the

world watched as Ratko Mladic was sent to life in prison on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It was a moment justice prevailed, a quarter century after Mladic had master minded the biggest mass murder in Europe since World War II. In

July of 1995, he was in charge of the Bosnian Serb army went he led his soldiers into the tiny Muslin town of Srebrenica.

It had been declared a safe area under U.N. protection but Mladic's forces none the less stormed through, they separated the men and boys from the

woman and they took them into fields and shot them at point blank rage. Their bodies were then dumped into mass graves. More than 7,000 men and

boys from the town were brutally slaughtered.

Even on the day of his judgment, Mladic remained unrepentant, he infuriated many by giving a thumbs up at the start and he had to be removed after this

outburst during the verdict.


UNDIENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Mladic, if you -


UNDIENTIFIED MALE: If you continued like this -




UNDIENTIFIED MALE: Be adjured - we adjured Mr. Mladic will be removed from the courtroom -



AMANPOUR: Mladic was shouting that it was all a sham but for me it was a deeply satisfying moment. It was the story that's affected me most as an

international correspondent and it took the murder of thousands and thousands of people over a period of over three years, a genocide right in

the heart of Europe to get the American and European governments to be serious about ending this.

After the Srebrenica massacre, the world could no longer turn a blind eye. Let's not forget, it was a slaughter against civilians, not military

against military. In 1993, I first met the man who came to be known as the 'Butcher of Bosnia'. From the start, he came across as a swaggering bully

who thought he could win over anyone with his idea of humor. Even about ethnic cleansing.

RATKO MLADIC, FORMER BOSNIAN SERB ARMY GENERAL: We'd be poor without the Muslims, good to have them around but in a smaller concentration.

AMANPOUR: Chilling words from the man they call the `Butcher of Bosnia' General Ratko Mladic. The snide humor masks his killer instinct, it

defined Mladic and it made him an uncomfortable man to confront. And we'd see this preening smile again and again as the war unfolded.

Indeed the Muslims, the Bosnian government says, I've been covering the Bosnian war for more than a year by the time I met him, living in this

shelled, sniped and disserved city of Sarajevo. A year of witnessing the ferocious war machine that the Bosnian Serb commander had unleashed and he

did not like my reporting.

MLADIC: What's the lady's name?


MLADIC: I like killing (ph) this Christiane. It wouldn't be difficult for her to understand because when I saw her first reports from Sarajevo, I was

very angry.

AMANPOUR: Mladic was commanding the Bosnian Serb military mission to carve out there out ethnity pure republic and join it into a greater Serbia.

This was a daily occurrence, dogging bullets as we covered the unfolding tragedy. For the Bosnian Muslims, the villain was clear.


AMANPOUR: They're your own people and your soldiers, to them you're a great man, you're a hero. To your enemies, you're somebody to be feared

and somebody to be hated. How do you feel about that?

MLADIC: Very interesting question. Those things you say are correct.


AMANPOUR: Prosecutors say what Mladic believed to be his greatness was in fact ethnic cleansing and genocide. It would reach its climax with the

massacre at Srebrenica July 11th, 1995, more than three years into this brutal war. It was meant to be a U.N. protected zone for Muslims. When

Mladic's forces overran U.N. positions and invaded the tiny enclave they handed out candy and General Mladic's promised the town's people they would

be safe.

Of course they were not, his soldiers slaughtered more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys who tried to flee. Hurem Suljic was one who miraculously

survived the massacre. I tracked him down in the Bosnian held town of Tuzla four months later.

HUREM SULJIC, SREBRENICA MASSACRE SURVIVOR (through translator): The Serbs said don't look around. Then I heard a lot of shooting and bodies fell on

top of me. They were the people standing behind me. I fell too.

AMANPOUR: Here he says he saw Mladic one last time.

SULJIC (through translator): He stood there and waited until they killed them. When they killed them he got back in his car and left.

AMANPOUR: After that massacre the U.S. led a bombing campaign against Bosnian Serb military positions and peace negotiations that eventually

ended the fighting. Mladic became a wanted man and soon went into hiding.

I never knew if I would see him again. The man with whom I've stood on a Bosnian hilltop at the height of the war, but it was with deep satisfaction

that I watched Mladic stand in the dark at the Hague to finally face the justice he so brutally denied others.

America has called him a war criminal and under any kind of U.N. tribunal he may have to be prosecuted. What does he think about that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): And it's a tough question, but he's a tough man. He can answer it.

RATKO MLADIC, FORMER BOSNIAN SERB GENERAL (through translator): Yes, I can take it. I've taken more rough ones, I can take hers too. I defended my

people and only my people can judge me and there's no greater honor than defending your people.

AMANPOUR: After the war Paddy Ashdown a former British Special Forces officer and head of the (centerous) liberal Democrat party was named

International High Representative for Bosnia. He had the unenviable job after the war of trying to stitch the region back together, Paddy Ashdown



AMANPOUR: We - on this day right?

ASHDOWN: Anybody who was there at that time as you were so often and I was as infrequently see this as a great day. I mean it's a day frankly I

didn't think actually would come. I was a great - I didn't - I mean I was given up at the three times of the tribunal. Once against Mladic and once

against (Decrize) and once against another Serb and I didn't they'd get him.

When I was Bosnia I worked very hard to make sure that we set the context in which he could be captured. So, I was delighted he was and delighted

that this long process, careful, steady, meticulous process has been brought to an end and this man is where he should be, in jail for the rest

of his life.

AMANPOUR: Give us a sense of - you mention modesty several times during the war. You saw my interview with him just a year into the war. And I

met him many times afterwards. He was a (flaggering) bully.

ASHDOWN: He certainly was, I met him twice. Once when I went out there in 92 and I was actually taken in by carriages before carriages stopped

allowing me to come to the Serb side, I had to make my own way there. The second time was arguably more chilling. I think you may have been there

because it was on (inaudible) the years 1993, 1994.

The Serb army has now taken the (inaudible) so it closing in on Igman it's closing the ring around Sarajevo.

AMANPOUR: So, it's getting closer and closer to Sarajevo.

ASHDOWN: And it's bombarding with very weight artillery, 115 millimeter artillery pieces sitting down below. Here's a story, the Serbs had just

tried to capture Sarajevo the day before being beaten back by the Muslims the last two (breaker) deals. I chided Mladic then I said you can't get


It's only a chilling story he said I'm Russian trained. What that means is if I have an enemy in my sights and I can shoot him in either the head or

the testicles, I shoot him in the testicles. If he shot in the head it takes one man - two men and hour to dig a grave for. If he's wounded in

that way he takes 50 men six months to put right. I'm leaving Sarajevo because then you have to feed it.

And while you're so busy feeding it, I can get on with doing what I want to do. And I rang the Prime Minister not long after that and said this man

will eventually cause a terrible massacre in one of the safe havens and so it turned out to be.

AMANPOUR: You know you said you rang the Prime Minister and you heard for yourself him actually describing his project in so many words. I heard it

in my interview he said we like the Muslims, but not in such big numbers. So he was actually saying it, but you remember your Prime Minister, the

American President, the French President, the Germans. Nobody wanted to confront and intervene to stop this war.

ASHDOWN: Yes, they called me a warmonger in the House of Commons because I went - I was known as the members of parliaments (society) because I kept

on raising questions of Prime Minister's question time, in the labor party infact. He's been called the dancing warmonger, you want to bring back the

body bags. I tell you what, there's an even more terrible story, Easter 1995 right at the end of the war, I rung by Prime Minister Major who says

we're going to reinforce British troops.

I said, actually you all ready fought with (ph). And I think that you have a - taken a decision that you would not defend the safe havens. And in

fact, I discovered afterwards that a secret decision was taken, by the Prime Ministers, and the inevitable consequence of that was a (ph) found

out and the Dutch troops were - they got the blame but actually it was the leaders behind them.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, and several months after you had that call, indeed -

ASHDOWN: -that's (ph) -

AMANPOUR: - that's it where we were together and we saw one of the concentration camps -

ASHDOWN: - I mean, let's not talk about that. A happy happy (ph), I saw the (ph) revolute so the mothers (ph). For anybody who believes that our

system of international law needs to be made, and for anybody who bled in Bosnia, this is a good day. I say, well justice was done.

AMANPOUR: So let us talk about that then because you said I can, I can rebuild, I think as many institutions as I can -


AMANPOUR: But I can't change - if I can't change people's minds and hearts, it won't matter. Well today, while most of the world was

celebrating this, the Serbs and Bosnian Serbs were pretty much ignoring it. They didn't see it on live television.

ASHDOWN: But Christiane, as you know, I -

AMANPOUR: - But the war is almost still going on in Bosnia, politically.

ASHDOWN: Oh no it's not, there's a - you know, there are free elections and their - the people - what's happened is the Bosnia state we tried to

create is being allowed to unravel because frankly the international community is given up the will to drive the process forward. I think when

I left, as I represented it, they thought the job was done. Look, here's a thought for you, I first marched into my home city Bell Fast in 1917(ph).

AMANPOUR: As a soldier?

ASHDOWN: As a soldier, to keep the peace. I've never believed that nearly 50 years later that war was still going on under the surface. It takes a

long long time to leach your way the enmities of war. And the American's Civil War, you still feel the effects today. The international community

has to have strategic patience to see this through to a sustainable peace. I'm very clear that the small minority, and you saw this, denied this - the

(ph) our minority, they're aging, they're dying, they'll be seen as history. Those who want to build a future in Bosnia will look at this as

an act that helps the sustainable peace be established.

AMANPOUR: And what about these signal it sends, in terms of justice and accountability, to the ongoing crimes against humanity that are being

committed? I mean, (ph), for instance.

ASHDOWN: Yes, so important, so important. Because I think you - look, it's been imperfect. It's taken a long time, law always does to assemble.

But actually that's going to be handed on to the international ICJ the federal court - criminal court. And that will deliver judgments. I've got

time to tell you a little story.

Here I am in the villages south of Prishtina, at the beginning of the Costavile War. Before the war started, in the Albanian villages, the

Costavile village is being bombarded by the main battle units of the Serve army. I went to visit them the day after and I went to visit Milosevic the

day after that, and then gave evidence against him at the war crimes tribunal. What astonished me, Christiane, was that when I saw the Serb

military, artillery commanders, they would more frightened of being indicted by the ICTY than they were of being bombed by NATO.

AMANPOUR: That's -

ASHDOWN: - By setting those rules, you're not just punish people after the event, you begin to influence the effect of people commanding troops in war

during the event.

AMANPOUR: That is such an important story. And I think, also perhaps, you know, obviously the mother's (ph), the people now who are victims of

chemical warfare and other atrocities against civilians in in Syria, you know, clearly they're impatient for justice. But I think you're saying

that it takes a long time but it will come.

ASHDOWN: It takes time, it takes time to come and it takes time to assemble. But what is true, is that I and many others never thought that

the three great architects of that crime (ph), (ph), and (ph) will be brought to justice. And they have been. And anybody who like you and I,

has looked into those masquerades seen those broken bodies, they dolls of the young children that were killed, knows that a retribution has been

delivered and who can not be glad about that?

AMANPOUR: You're absolutely right. It is a great day today.

ASHDOWN: It is a good day. But people like you and I, and others, are -

AMANPOUR: - For the victims.

ASHDOWN: The victims of Serbiniza, I weep for them today, but it was so good to see the Serbiniza so welcome that because they feel - nothing can

bring back their husband, their grandfather, their son, but if the man who perpetrated those horrors upon them is brought to justice, -

AMANPOUR: - And I just want to, as a military man, what you thought of - I interpreted it as cowardice; he wasn't in the room to hear the verdict. It

looked like he threw a tantrum at the last moment.

ASHDOWN: He was playing to his audience. You remember how they did that? But yes, if he was as big a man as he should, he should have stood there

and taken it, instead of which he was absent. Absent on duty.


ASHDOWN: (ph) managed the deserter. That will never go down well in Serbia.

AMANPOUR: Thank you. It had taken more than twenty years from Latish to be sentenced for his crimes in Bosnia, in the court room he's frequently

clashed with judges, prosecutors, witnesses, and on lookers in the galleries. Attending the final judgment, were the mothers clutching photos

of their sons who are missing or murdered and also victims of rape by his forces. They were just a handful of the tens of thousands who had suffered

from that particular weapon of war.


MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're gathered in Sarajevo, in Srebrenica, and in the Hague. Victims of the Bosnian war should waited

more than 22 years to see this man hear his verdict. But until the very end of the trial of the former Bosnian Serb military commander, Ratko

Mladic, made for difficult viewing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Mladic will be removed from the courtroom.

BELL: A little earlier, Mladic's lengthy toilet break had incensed this group of rape and concentration camp survivors in downtown Sarajevo. No

one, they said, had ever allowed them a toilet break. There was anger here, too, when the first charge of genocide relating to six downs (ph)

other than Srebrenica was thrown out. Among those towns, Visegrad where Meliha Mrdzic saw her family killed in 1992.

MELIHA MRDZIC, (through translator): I am a second time victim of the system. This system and the politics of the international community, and

this verdict of lifelong imprisonment means something to me, but they should have included genocide in all of the towns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For having committed these crimes, the chamber sentences Mr. Ratko Mladic to life imprisonment.

BELL: In Srebrenica, the final verdict also felt bittersweet for some. Bida Smajovic lost more than 50 members of her extended family in the

Srebrenica Massacre. She lost - saw her husband as he tried to flee Mladic's men more than 22 years ago.

BIDA SMAJOVIC, (through translator): Nothing can be done to take that back, and there's no punishment that could be handed to him for him to feel

something. I don't know how he could feel our pain. There's nothing, but still it does mean some justice is done.

BELL: And for those here at the market in Sarajevo bombed by Bosnian Serbs not once, but twice during the war had part of the charges against Mladic,

there was also relief.

One man showed us the name of his sister who died here in the 1994 bombing that killed 68 people. He, too, was here that day.

POZZDER ESAD, (through translator): I was walking. People were screaming. I saw they were dragging people without legs, without heads. A river of

blood was flowing. God help us. And then I remembered "where is my sister?" She died right here.

BELL: Another survivor who was back at this market today pointed out the great diversity of those who'd lose their lives on that day in 1994.

"They'd been Croats," he said, "and Serbs and Muslims. A reminder," he pointed out, "of all that had always made Sarajevo so special and

precisely," he said, "what Ratko Mladic had sought to destroy."

Melissa Bell, CNN in Sarajevo.


AMANPOUR: IN 2015, Europe marked the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica Massacre. The remembrance was held at a memorial there where the rows of

tombstones were a sharp reminder of the cruelty of that war. Past and present world leaders were there, too, including the former U.S. President,

Bill Clinton, who's administration broke at the Dayton Accord that ended the war.

I was there to speak to the families and the survivors. 20 years on, remains of victims in the fields around Srebrencia were still being

discovered and buried, and justice at that time felt a long way off.

20 years after the massacre here in Srebrenica, families of the victims are still looking for closure. They're still looking for justice, and they're

still looking for somewhat that this truth is always remembered. Here they are amongst the gravestones, and today, 20 years later, more remains will

be buried.

Semia Omervic (ph) lost her 22-year old son that day, and she's come with her sisters to remember.

That there is her son's head stone and he's buried under thins mound. Where they're sitting right now is where they hope they'll be able to bury

Semia's (ph) husband. He has yet to be found, yet to be identified.

SEMIA OMERVIC (ph), (through translator): This day means a lot to me, the day of remembrance. And the more people I see coming here, the more I feel

because I know we are not forgotten.

AMANPOUR: President Clinton spoke and said he loved this place, that what he did gathering a coalition to confront the Bosnian Serbs after Srebrenica

and then later on is Kosovo were among the most important things he did with his presidency, and he issued this heartfelt plead.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I am begging you not to let this monument to innocent boys and men become only a memory of a tragedy. I ask

you to make it a sacred trust where all people of here can come and claim a future for this country.


AMANPOUR: As the Muslim prayers for the dead for the martyrs were being sung, the coffins of those who will be buried on this anniversary were

being prepared.

It is extraordinary to think that all these years later, two decades later, remains are still being found have yet to be buried and there are another

1,000 victims who have not even been identified yet.

But as the Serbian Prime Minister came to pay his respects, the grieving families here is Srebrenica could contain themselves no longer, booing and

hissing and even pelting him. They were angry that under Serb pressure, the Russians vetoed the U.N. resolution,0 calling this a genocide. The

prime minister and his people fled and left the scene.

Afterwards, I asked President Clinton what all this meant.


CLINTON: Who would've thought when you were asking me questions about this 22 years ago that after 22 years the question of identity would still be

at the root of most of the worlds problems.


AMANPOUR: Although the Dayton Accord stopped the war, the people of Bosnia know that it cemented the ethnic divisions. For them, real peace, real

change will mean reopening the political process.

The United Nations set up the War Crimes Tribunal in 1993 because of the Bosnia War and it has indicted more that 160 people. Just a few weeks

after Mladic's sentencing, the court looked on in stunned disbelief when a Croat convicted of war crime committed suicide with poison that he had

somehow smuggled in. It was, indeed, a dramatic end to the court's final ruling before closing the file on crimes from the former Yugoslavia. Atika

Shubert has that report.


ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Slobodan Pralijak was one of six convicted war criminals in court for the last day of the International

Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia. As he heard the judge upholding his sentence, Pralijak stood up and drank from what looked like a small,

glass vile. He then told the court, "I just drank poison. I am not a war criminal. I oppose this conviction."

The judge immediately suspended proceedings, the court television feed abruptly ended, paramedic rushed Pralijak to hospital too late. Tribunal

officials announced his death several hours later.

Over two decades, the Tribunal has indicted more than 100 suspects of war crimes like Pralijak without such a security breech. So how was he able to

bring the poison in? Dutch police have declared the court room to be a crime scene as they investigate.

Pralijak was one of dozens held in a special U.N. detention facility in the Hague. The court also has stringent security screenings, but small amounts

of liquids are allowed in. But for those in Bosnia still divided and scarred by the war, the question was not how Pralijak killed himself, but

why. Bosnia's Croat member of the Presidency, part of the fragile power shrank (ph) structure established in the aftermath of the war descending

Pralijak and rejected the Tribunal's verdict.

"In this way," he said, "he has shown what a great sacrifice he is willing to make in front of the whole world to say that Slobadan Pralijak is not a

war criminal."

Thousands were killed in the violent disillusion of Yugoslavia and the war his the area of Bosnia particularly hard. Pralijak was a former Bosnian-

Croat general. He was charged with targeting Bosnian Muslims, particularly in the town of Mostar. But, the court ruled that he and several others

were also part of a criminal conspiracy to annex territory in Bosnia with the help of the President of neighboring Croatia by conducting a campaign

of ethnic cleansing forcibly removing Bosnian Muslims into detention camps in squalid conditions.

In Mostar for some survivors, the Tribunal, despite its dramatic end, gave some measure of justice.

This survivor said, "we victims know the best what they did and how they did it. Justice is possible, but slow. I am glad it finished like this.

Mostar at least gets some satisfaction."

The International Criminal Tribunal was established to deliver justice and some measure of closure for victims but by rejecting his verdict and taking

his life in the court room where justice was to be handed down on the last day of proceedings. Priolock had the final word. Rekindling the very

divisions that fueled the conflict. Atika Shubert, CNN Berlin.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Is the judgment and sentencing of Ratko Mladic and his civilian counterpart Radovan Karadzic that will go down in

history. And it should send a clear message to the rest of the worlds tyrants, that they can run but they can not hide from their crimes forever.

The U N High Commission for Human Rights Prince Zeid praised the ruling saying that it is a warning to the perpetrators of such crimes, that they

will not escape justice.

No matter how powerful they may be, nor how long it may take, they will be held accountable. One down, many still to go. And that's it for our

program tonight. And remember you can always listen to our pod cast, you can see us online on and follow me on face book and twitter.

Thanks for watching and good bye from London.