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The plaque in the Vraca neighbourhood near the Bosnian capital. Photo: BIRN BiH
A Bosnian Serb Army veterans’ association has installed a new plaque in the Vraca neighbourhood of East Sarajevo bearing the name of former military chief Ratko Mladic, who is serving a life sentence for genocide and other wartime crimes, despite legislation prohibiting the commemoration of war criminals.
The Veterans’ Association of East New Sarajevo denied that the plaque specifically honours the Bosnian Serb Army commander, but said it was installed to commemorate the establishment of two battalions at a ceremony attended by Mladic.
“We are honoured that he was there,” said a representative of the Veterans’ Association who answered the organisation’s telephone.
He said that the new plaque was installed to replace a previous one at the same site. The original plaque had been painted over and then cleaned several times, but in January this year it was seriously damaged.
Legal changes to ban the denial of genocide and war crimes and the honouring of war criminals were imposed in July 2021 by then High Representative Valentin Inzko, the international official overseeing the continued implementation of the peace deal that ended the Bosnian war.
According to the amendments to the Bosnian criminal code, anyone who gives an award or honour to a person convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes can be sentenced to a prison term of no fewer than three years.
The text on the plaque reads: “At this place on May 19, 1992, the commander of the Main Staff of the Bosnian Serb Army, General Ratko Mladic, reviewed two battalions of people who had organised themselves from the New Sarajevo municipality.”
The UN court in The Hague sentenced Mladic to life in prison last year for the genocide of Bosniaks from Srebrenica, the persecution of Bosniaks and Croats throughout the country, terrorising the population of Sarajevo during the siege of the city and taking UN peacekeepers hostage.
The state prosecution said that no one had reported the plaque issue, and that it could not comment further than saying that it is “monitoring incidents in the public and media that could be associated with the criminal offences that fall under the competence of the prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina”.
Nina Kisic, a Bosnian lawyer with experience in working on war crime cases, told BIRN that in order to charge someone over the Mladic plaque, it is first necessary “to determine who, at the local level, was responsible for issuing the relevant permits for the memorial plaques”.
East Sarajevo mayor Ljubisa Cosic, who was the mayor of the municipality of East New Sarajevo when the plaque was originally installed in 2014, said the veterans’ association did not need to get a permit for it because it is “an organisation of special interest which implements various activities, including, among other things, the marking of places and important dates”.
Cosic also noted that at the time the plaque was installed, Mladic “was not covered by a verdict of the international criminal tribunal for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia”.