Six Years in the Making, FRONTLINE Gains Exclusive Access to “The Trial of Ratko Mladic”

March 11, 2019

The Trial of Ratko Mladic
Airing Tuesday, March 19 at 9/8c on PBS and online | Twitter: @frontlinepbs
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They called him “The Butcher of Bosnia.”

In the aftermath of the brutal wars that decimated Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic was accused of genocide and other war crimes – including the massacre of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica in July 1995 – considered the worst crime perpetrated on European soil since World War II.

After 16 years on the run, Mladic was apprehended and brought to The Hague to stand trial before the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the biggest and only truly international war crimes tribunal since Nuremburg.

The judges’ sentence was life in prison. But a guilty verdict was by no means assured during the trial.

In the two-hour special The Trial of Ratko Mladic airing Tuesday, March 19 at 9/8c on PBS, FRONTLINE producers Rob Miller and Henry Singer go inside the historic five-year trial, with unprecedented, behind-the-scenes access to the prosecution and defense teams, as well as to witnesses from both sides who came to give evidence.

The film also features interviews with Mladic’s supporters and family members in Bosnia, most notably his wife and son, and offers harrowing accounts from some of his victims still waiting for justice after more than two decades.

“Seeing extraordinary pain and terrible trauma like this was really a reminder that it is recent history. This was a war that played out in color at the heart of Europe,” Miller says. “These are people who experienced terrible things. For them, the war has never really ended.”

Throughout the film, FRONTLINE follows the efforts of the prosecution to establish Mladic’s direct, personal culpability for the crimes carried out by the troops under his command.

“To establish genocide…I have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Mladic had genocidal intent,” prosecutor Dermot Groome explains. “In other words, that it was his intent to physically destroy, in whole or in part, the Muslim population…. That’s a pretty high burden.”

To meet that burden, Groome and his colleagues interviewed hundreds of witnesses, who shared heart-wrenching stories of being forcibly separated from loved ones who were never seen again. Prosecutors recount digging up mass graves, scattered around Bosnia, and finding the remains of those loved ones hidden beneath the earth.

“I’ve been so close to this work for so long, and so close to the victims, it becomes rather difficult to deal with the carnage,” prosecutor Peter McCloskey tells FRONTLINE.

Groome agrees. “It’s just so massive,” he says standing at the edge of one mass grave. “And to think that all of this (land) was dug up and bodies were put in here, and people were brought here and executed here, and then there’s tons and tons of earth that was then put on top of it. It’s beyond anything that I’ve ever dealt with.”

The prosecution also painstakingly tries to establish the deadly chain of events in Srebrenica. But Mladic’s defense team characterizes what happened there very differently.

“What is being described as deportation by the prosecution in relation to Srebrenica was a humanitarian evacuation that was agreed to by all sides,” defense attorney Dan Ivetic contends. “We hope to show our client, General Mladic, acting in a very humane light, providing food and water to the civilians that were located there.”

Saliha Osmanovic, whose husband and two sons were killed in Srebrenica, angrily dismisses such claims.

“They must have fed them and then killed them! It was a show for the camera,” she says. “They should have just let everyone go. It was hell. But I saw Mladic, believe me. I know that. I’m not a fool. I lost two sons. I lost my husband. I don’t need these stories anymore.”

Viewers hear from former soldiers who testify for the prosecution, saying that Mladic was firmly in command of his troop’s actions. But others remain loyal to the general and defend his actions.

“The other side considers him to be a war criminal,” Mladjen Kenjic, Mladic’s former army driver tells FRONTLINE. “We consider him our savior. We say that God sent him to unite and defend the Serbian nation.”

A turning point occurs when, during the trial, a new mass grave is uncovered in Tomasica near the town of Prijedor in North West Bosnia. The prosecution petition the court to have this new evidence admitted during the trial – a motion to which the defense is strongly opposed.

“At this moment, Bosnia does not need shows for the public…it’s just prolongation of Bosnian agony,” defense attorney Branko Lukic says. “We should bury our dead and move forward; having wounds reopened all the time cannot help reconciliation.”

Tribunal President Theodor Meron disagrees.

“It is my very strong hope that the work of the Tribunal will offer some measure of consolation to those who have survived, and to the families of those who did not survive,” Meron says while visiting the Tomasica grave site. “I hope the work of international courts will promote reconciliation and healing in the region.”

The Trial of Ratko Mladic provides haunting insights into a war criminal’s motives, and the genocide he commanded his troops to carry out – as well as an intimate look at the victims left behind, who remain haunted by what their families endured. It tells an epic story of justice, accountability and a country trying to escape its bloody past.

The Trial of Ratko Mladic is a Sandpaper Films production for WGBH/FRONTLINE in association with BBC, WDR, and VPRO. The co-directors are Henry Singer and Rob Miller. The co-producers are Henry Singer, Rob Miller and Ida Ven Bruusgaard. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath.

FRONTLINE, U.S. television’s longest running investigative documentary series, explores the issues of our times through powerful storytelling. FRONTLINE has won every major journalism and broadcasting award, including 91 Emmy Awards and 20 Peabody Awards. Visit and follow us on n TwitterFacebookInstagramYouTubeTumblr and Google+ to learn more. FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Ford Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Abrams Foundation, the Park Foundation, the John and Helen Glessner Family Trust, The Heising-Simons Foundation and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation. Additional funding for “The Trial of Ratko Mladic” is provided by the Sigrid Rausing Trust, the Blavatnik Family Foundation, the Doc Society – The Bertha Doc Journalism Fund, the Fritt Ord Foundation, the Norwegian Film Institute, and the Sundance Institute.

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