Prosecution error sees Ratko Mladic trial delayed for months

Failure to release documents brings war crimes tribunal to halt after just two days

Belgrade

After waiting nearly 20 years for the war crimes and genocide trial of Ratko Mladic, the families of his alleged victims will have to wait some months more after the judge at the special court for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague yesterday suspended proceedings indefinitely after it transpired that the prosecution had failed to release thousands of documents to defence lawyers.

Judge Alphons Orie, who clashed with the former Bosnian Serb general on the opening day of proceedings on Wednesday after shouts from the public gallery, said he was delaying the war crimes case, "in light of the prosecution's significant disclosure errors".

"The chamber is still in the process of gathering information as to the scope and the full impact of this error," said the judge. "The chamber aims to announce the start date of the prosecutions evidence as soon as possible." The mistake is thought to have involved as many as 7,000 documents and prompted the defence to demand an immediate six-month adjournment.

The delay, which is almost certain to last several months whether or not the defence is granted its wish, will do little to assuage the victims' families. They fear that Mladic, who is thought to be in ill health, may not live long enough to see justice.

It remains unclear how and why the prosecution failed to disclose the documents in the case, but they are believed to relate to witness testimony that had been due to be heard in the coming weeks, before a scheduled summer break at the end of July. Prosecutors acknowledged the error "could impact on the fairness of the trial", said the court's spokeswoman, Nerma Jelacic.

The tribunal published a letter yesterday from prosecutors to Mladic's lawyer with the explanation that the missing documents were not uploaded on to an electronic database accessible to the defence. "We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience that these missing materials... may have caused to you," said the letter, dated 11 May.

Nonetheless, the oversight is a huge embarrassment for the court amid its most significant hearing since the aborted trial of the former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic who died during his trial after several years of testimony. It represents a setback in the final trial to focus on the atrocities committed during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, which left more than 100,000 people dead.

Before the postponement, prosecutors had finished their opening statement by recounting in chilling detail the systematic murder by Bosnian Serb forces commanded by Mladic of thousands of Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in July 1995, Europe's worst massacre since the Second World War.

"In a period of only five days, from 12 to 16 July 1995, the armed forces of [Bosnian Serb leader] Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic expelled the civilian population of Srebrenica and murdered over 7,000 Srebrenica men and boys," said prosecutor Peter McCloskey. Other estimates range up to 8,000 dead.

Mladic, the 70-year-old former commander of the Bosnian Serb army, showed no emotion, the Associated Press reported, as Mr McCloskey showed judges a video of what he said were the bodies of executed Muslim men piled in front of a bullet-riddled wall.

On the opening day of proceedings, Mladic earned a rebuke from the judge after gesturing to a woman in the public gallery by drawing his hand across his throat.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk