tv Amanpour on PBS PBS December 29, 2017 12:00am-12:31am PST
♪ >> welcome to this edition of "amanpour on pbs." it took a long time, but this year, ratko mladic, the commander behind massacres such as srebrenica during the bosnia war was finally convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity. my memories of meeting him decades ago and covering the worst atrocity in europe since world war ii. ♪ ♪ >> "amanpour on pbs" was made possible by the generous support of rosalind p. walter. ♪ >> 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 sentenced 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 masterminded the biggest mass murder in europe since world war ii. >> count two -- genocide. >> in july of 1995, he was in charge of the bosnian-serb army when he led his soldiers into the tiny muslim town of srebrenica. it had been declared a safe area under u.n. protection. but mladic's forces nonetheless stormed through. they separated the men and boys from the women, and they took them into fields and shot them at point-blank range. 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. >> mr. mladic, sit. >> [ speaks foreign language ] >> mister -- mr. mladic, if you -- if you continue like this -- >> [ shouting in foreign language ] >> we adjourn. we adjourn. we adjourn. we adjourn. mr. mladic will be removed from the courtroom. >> 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 more than 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. >> interpreter: we'd be poor without the muslims. it's good to have them around, but in a smaller concentration. >> chilling words from the man they called the butcher of bosnia, general ratko mladic. the snide humor masked his killer instinct. it defined mladic, and it made him an uncomfortable man to confront. and we'd seen this preening smile again and again as the war unfolded. indeed, the muslims, the bosnian government says... i'd been covering the bosnian war for more than a year by the time i met him, living in this shelled, sniped, and besieged
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. >> interpreter: what's the lady's name? >> christiane. >> interpreter: like kennedy's christina. [ laughter ] it won't be difficult for her to understand because when i saw her first reports from sarajevo, i was very angry. >> mladic was commanding the bosnian-serb military mission to carve out their own ethnically pure republic and join it into a greater serbia. [ gunshots ] this was a daily occurrence, dodging bullets as we covered the unfolding tragedy. [ gunshots ] for the bosnian muslims, the villain was clear. they're, you know, 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? >> interpreter: very interesting question. both things you say are correct. >> 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 11, 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 promised the townspeople they would be safe. >> [ shouting in foreign language ] >> 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. >> interpreter: 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. >> here, he says, he saw mladic one last time. >> interpreter: he stood there and waited until they killed them. when they killed them, he got back in his car and left. >> 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'd 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 of the hague to finally face the justice he so brutally denied others. >> [ speaks in foreign language ] >> america calls him a war
criminal, and under any kind of u.n. tribunal, he may have to be prosecuted. what does he think about that? >> interpreter: and it's a tough question, but he's a tough man and he can answer it. >> interpreter: yes, i can take it. i've taken more rough ones. i can take hers, too. [ laughter ] i defended my people, and only my people can judge me, and there's no greater honor in defending your people. >> after the war, paddy ashdown, a former british special forces officer and head of the centrist 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, welcome. >> nice to be with you. >> on this day, right? >> anybody who was there that time, as you were so often and i was infrequently, will see this as a great day.
i mean, it was a day, frankly, i didn't think actually would come. >> really? >> i didn't. i mean, i was given evidence three times at the tribunal, once against mladic, once against the kurds, and once against another serb, and i didn't think they'd get it. when i was in 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 this long process, careful, steady, meticulous process been brought to an end and this man is where he should be -- in jail for the rest of his life. >> give us a sense of -- you met him obviously 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 swaggering bully. >> he certainly was. i met him twice -- once when i went out there in '92, and i was actually taken in by karadzic before karadzic 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 bijeljina, and the year's 1993, 1994. the serb army has now taken bijeljina, it's closing in on engemann, it's closing the ring
around serbia. >> it's getting closer and closer to sarajevo. >> and it's bombarding with very heavy-weight artillery -- 115-millimeter artillery pieces, the city down below. little story, the serbs had just tried to capture sarajevo the day before and been beaten back by the muslims, lost two brigadiers. i chided mladic. i said, "you can't take sarajevo." he told me a chilling story. he said, "i'm russian trained. what that means 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's shot in the head, it takes one man, two men an 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. >> you know, you say 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. >> yeah, they called me a warmonger in the house of commons because i went -- i was known at the member of parliament for sarajevo because i kept on raising questions that prime minister's -- the labor party, in fact, used to bar me down and saying, "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'm rung by prime minister major who says we're going to reinforce british troops. i said actually you're ready for withdrawal, and i think you have taken the decision that you would not defend the safe havens. and, in fact, i discovered after is that a secret decision was taken by the prime ministers, and the inevitable consequence of that was the ratko mladic found out and the dutch troops were -- they got the blame, but actually it was the leaders behind it. >> yes, and several months after you had that call, indeed.
that's it, where we were together, and we saw one of the concentration camps. >> i mean, let's talk about a happy, happy -- i saw the wives of srebrenica or the mothers of srebrenica. for anybody who believes that a system of international law needs to be made and for anybody who bled in bosnia, this is a good day, a day when justice was done. >> so let us talk about that, then, because you said, "i can rebuild i think as many institutions as i can, but i can't -- 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 the bosnian-serbs were pretty much ignoring it. they didn't see it on live television. >> christiane, as you know -- >> but the war is almost still going on in bosnia politically. >> no, no, it's not. there are free elections, and they're -- but what's happened is the bosnia state we tried to create has been allowed to unravel because, frankly, the international community has given up the will to drive the process forward. i think when i left as high representative, i thought the job was done. look, here's a thought for you. i first marched into my home
city, belfast, in 1970. >> as a soldier. >> as a soldier to keep the peace. i never believed that nearly 50 years later that war was still going under the surface. it takes a long, long time to leech away the enmities of war. in the american 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 who saw this deny that srebrenica happened, are a minority, they're aging, they're dying, they'll been 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. >> and what about the signal it sends in terms of justice and accountability to the ongoing crimes against humanity that are being committed? i mean, bashar assad, for instance. >> yes, so important, so important. because i think if you -- look, it's been imperfect. it's taking a long time, law always does, to assemble, but actually now it's going to be handed on to the international icj, the international 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 pristina in the beginning of the kosovo war, before the war had started, and the albanian villages, the kosovo village is being bombarded by the main battle units of the serb 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 were more frightened of being indicted by the icty than they were of being bombed by nato. by setting those rules, you not just punish people after the event. you begin to influence the effect of people commanding troops in war during the event. >> that is such an important story, and i think also perhaps -- obviously the mothers of srebrenica, the people now who are victims of chemical warfare and other atrocities against civilians in syria, clearly they're impatient for justice, but i think you're saying that it takes a long time but it will come. >> 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 -- milosevic, karadzic, and ratko mladic -- would be brought to justice, and they have been. and anybody who, like you and i, has looked into those mass graves, seen those broken bodies, the dolls of the young children that were killed knows that a retribution has been delivered, and who cannot be glad about that? >> you're absolutely right. it is a great day today. >> tis a good day. for people like you and i and others around. >> for the victims. >> the victims of srebrenica, i weep for them today, but it was so good to see the srebrenica welcome mat 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... >> and i just wonder as military man what you thought of -- i interpret it as cowardice. he wasn't in the room to hear the verdict. it looked like he threw a tantrum at the last moment. >> he was playing to his audience.
you remember how they did that. but yes, i mean, if he was as big a man as should, he should have stood there and taken it, instead of which he was absent on duty. ratko mladic, the deserter. that'll go down well in serbia. >> thank you. it had taken more than 20 years for mladic to be sentenced for his crimes in bosnia. in the courtroom, he's frequently clashed with judges, prosecutors, witnesses, and onlookers in the galleries. attending the final judgment were the mothers clutching photos of their sons who were missing or murdered, and also victims of rape by his forces. there were just a handful of the tens of thousands who had suffered from that particular weapon of war. [ cheers and applause ] >> they gathered in sarajevo, in srebrenica, anin the hague. victims of the bosnian war who'd 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. >> [ shouts in foreign language ] >> mr. mladic will be removed from the courtroom. >> 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 towns, other than srebrenica, was thrown out. among those towns, visegrad, where meliha mercic saw her family killed in 1992. >> interpreter: i am a second-time victim of the system, the system and the politics of the international community, and this verdict of life-long imprisonment means something to me, but they should have included genocide in all of the towns. >> for having committed these crimes, the chamber sentences
mr. ratko mladic to life imprisonment. >> in srebrenica, the final verdict also felt bittersweet for some. bita smolovic lost more than 50 members of her extended family in the srebrenica massacre. she last saw her husband as he tried to flee mladic's men more than 22 years ago. >> interpreter: 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. >> 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.
>> interpreter: 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. right here. >> another survivor who was back at this market today pointed out the great diversity of those who'd lost 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 has sought to destroy. melissa bell, cnn, in sarajevo. >> 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, whose administration brokered the dayton accords 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 srebrenica 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 some way that this truth is always remembered. here they are amongst the gravestones, and today, 20 years later, more remains will be buried. samire omerovic lost her 22-year-old son that day, and she's come with her sisters to remember. that there is her son's headstone, and he's buried under this mound. where they're sitting right now is where they hope they'll be able to bury samire's husband. he has yet to be found, yet to
be identified. >> interpreter: this day means a lot to me. the day of remembrance and the more people i see coming here, the more relieved i feel because i know we are not forgotten. >> 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 in kosovo were among the most important things he did with his presidency. and he issued this heartfelt plea. >> 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 here can come and claim a future for this country.
>> [ vocalizing ] >> 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 in srebrenica could contain themselves no longer, booing and hissing and even pelting him. they were angry that under serb pressure, the russian's vetoed the u.n. resolution calling this a genocide. the prime minister and his people fled and left the scene. afterwards, i asked president clinton what all this meant. >> who would have 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 world's problems. >> although the dayton accords stopped the war, the people of bosnia know that it's 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 than 160 people. just a few weeks after mladic's sentencing, the court looked on in stunned disbelief when a croat convicted of war crimes 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. >> slobodan praljak 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, praljak stood up and drank from what looked like a small glass vial. 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 abruptly ended. paramedics rushed praljak 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 praljak, without such a security breach. so, how was he able to bring the poison in? dutch police have declared the courtroom to be a crime scene as they investigate. praljak 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 praljak killed himself, but why. bosnia's croat member of the presidency, part of the fragile power-sharing structure established in the aftermath of the war, defended praljak 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 slobodan praljak is not a war criminal." [ gunshots ] thousands were killed in the violent dissolution of yugoslavia. and the war hit the area of bosnia particularly hard. praljak 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. >> [ speaks foreign language ] >> 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 courtroom where justice was to be handed down on the last day of proceedings, praljak had the final word, rekindling the very divisions that fueled the conflict. atika shubert, cnn, berlin. >> it 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 world's tyrants that they can run but they cannot hide from their crimes forever. the u.n. high commissioner for human rights praised the ruling, saying that is a warning to the perpetrators of such crimes that they'll not escape justice no matter how powerful they may be, nor how long it may take, they will be held accountable. and that's it for our program tonight. thanks for watching this edition of "amanpour on pbs." and see us again next time. ♪ >> "amanpour on pbs" was made possible by the generous support of rosalind p. walter. ♪ you're watching pbs. [jazz music]