Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb commander whose appeal opens Tuesday, saw himself as a crusading defender of the Serbs but he was dubbed the "epitome of evil" for the mass killings his troops carried out during Bosnia's 1990s war.
The 78-year-old was sentenced to life in prison in 2017 for genocide and other war crimes that judges in The Hague said were "amongst the most heinous known to humankind".
The atrocities, including the massacre of some 8,000 Muslim boys and men in Srebrenica, were carried out by Mladic's forces as they tried to rid Bosnian territory of Croats and Muslims in pursuit of a Serb-only state.
The UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein described Mladic as "the epitome of evil" after his conviction.
Captured in 2011 after 16 years on the run, he is now an ailing shadow of his former self, dogged by ill-health.
He remains a hero to many Serbs, who deeply distrust the international courts which have meted out justice for the communal violence that ruptured former Yugoslavia.
But to the families of war victims, he will forever be associated with the bloody 44-month siege of Sarajevo and the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica, considered the worst bloodshed on European soil since World War II.
After Mladic's troops overran Srebenica, a Muslim enclave under UN protection, in 1995, he arrived on the scene in footage that shows him congratulating troops and assuring locals they would be safe.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia found him guilty on 10 counts including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the 1992-1995 conflict that killed 100,000 people and displaced 2.2 million.
Mladic has denied all charges, describing them as "obnoxious" at his first court appearance in 2011.
"I defended my country and my people," he said.
- Military path -
Born in the village of Bozanovici in eastern Bosnia, Mladic's life was struck by bloodshed and tragedy as a toddler, when his father was killed in battle with the Ustasha, Croatia's fascist World War II regime.
Mladic followed his parent's military path and was a colonel in the Yugoslav army when the federation began to crumble in June 1991.
He was sent to organise the Serb-dominated army in Croatia, and the following May he was made commander of Bosnian Serb forces, tasked with seizing land across Bosnia for Serbs.
Former Yugoslav army spokesperson Ljubodrag Stojadinovic once described Mladic as "narcissistic, conceited, vain and arrogant".
In 1994, at the height of the war, Mladic's only daughter Ana committed suicide in Belgrade, aged 23, with her father's favourite pistol.
Those close to the general were reported as saying that he was pushed over the edge by her death, which came a year before the Srebrenica massacre took place.
The court also held Mladic responsible for the interminable siege of Sarajevo, which claimed an estimated 10,000 lives and deprived the city of food, water and electricity under a barrage of shells and sniper fire.
At the trial's end, prosecutor Alan Tieger dismissed defence claims that the general's role in the conflict was limited, maintaining he was the man who "called the shots".
- 'Coward's war' -
Although Mladic was revered by his men, "his war was a coward's war", according to veteran Balkans journalist Tim Judah.
"He fought few pitched battles but managed to drive hundreds of thousands of unarmed people out of their homes," Judah wrote in his book "The Serbs".
Mladic was indicted by the ICTY in 1995 and dismissed from his post the following year.
But he initially enjoyed a luxurious and protected life as a fugitive, staying in Serbian military resorts with an entourage of staff, according to journalist Julian Borger, who wrote the book "The Butcher's Trail".
He later went underground in Belgrade after the fall of strongman Slobodan Milosevic -- who died while on trial at The Hague in 2006 -- and as Serbia came under growing pressure from the West to capture Mladic.
The general was finally arrested in May 2011 at his cousin's house in bucolic northern Serbia.
His last request before his transfer to the court was to visit his daughter's grave.