Former commander of the Bosnian Serb Army Ratko Mladic [ICTY case materials; JURIST news archive] pleaded not guilty to all charges in a pre-trial brief [text, PDF] released Wednesday by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website]. Mladic is not obligated to put forth his defense in the pre-trial briefing, although the brief describes the charges as "general" and states that Mladic, "did not personally participate in any criminal activity nor did he participate in any events that may have lead to the crimes asserted." Mladic's team will also argue that he has an alibi for the Srebrenica massacre [BBC backgrounder], and the brief suggests they can prove he was not in the Balkan region at the time. The brief argues against both the prosecutor's pre-trial allegations and the overall conduct of ICTY and prosecutors toward Mladic. Counsel promised to continue to take ample time to review all documents and evidence in the case, which many have perceived as a stalling tactic:
At this time, the Defense cannot find a single portion of the Prosecution Pre-Trial Brief that is not subject to dispute with the Defense. The manner of presentation of material in the Prosecution Pre-Trial Brief takes matters out of context, misrepresents them, misinterprets them, and generally alters or interprets them in such a way that the Defense cannot agree or adopt any without compromising the presumption of innocence or the right of the Accused to a fair trial. The Defense rejects all charges as unfounded and will put the Prosecution to their burden in proving the case set out in the allegations. Mr. Mladic contests the truth and veracity of all factual assertions made by the Prosecution and any conclusions derived therefrom. ... [T]he Defense takes note for the record its understanding that it is under no legal obligation to enter agreements with the Prosecution to reduce the time and scope of trial to the detriment of its own client. Mr. Mladic is entitled to have trial on the time honored principle that the Prosecution is the party with the burden and obligation to prove the entirety of its case beyond any reasonable doubt on its own.Mladic's lawyers also criticized the ICTY for denying them a right to cross-examine witnesses against Mladic. Mladic's trial is slated to begin on May 14 [press release].
In February, Mladic accused the tribunal of bias and sought to delay his trial [JURIST reports] once again. A three-judge panel for the ICTY accepted a request brought by prosecutors to reduce the number of crimes [JURIST report] they intend to prove against Mladic from 196 to 106 in December, in an effort to accelerate the proceedings. The ICTY prosecutor refused to seek further appeal [JURIST report] of the tribunal's refusal to split Mladic's trial into separate actions: one for his conduct during the Srebrenica massacre, where approximately 8,000 people were killed, and one for all of his other charges during the Bosnian civil war [JURIST news archive]. ICTY prosecutors had hoped splitting the trial would enable them to convict Mladic of some charges before his death, as he is reportedly of ill health [JURIST report]. Serbian authorities arrested Mladic after a 16-year search [JURIST report] in May of last year.