News 29 Nov 17

Bosnian Croat Disrupts Hague Verdict by ‘Taking Poison’

The UN court dramatically interrupted its verdict convicting six former Bosnian Croat officials of wartime crimes against Bosniaks when defendant Slobodan Praljak declared that he had taken poison.

Erna Mackic
The Hague
Slobodan Praljak (centre, with beard) and the other defendants in court. Photo: ICTY.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on Wednesday abruptly suspended the reading of its verdict convicting six former Bosnian Croat officials when defendant Slobodan Praljak appeared to swallow what he claimed was poison in the courtroom after his 20-year prison sentence was announced.

“Slobodan Praljak is not a war criminal. I reject your judgment,” he shouted as he appeared to drink something from a glass vessel.

The reading of the verdict was immediately suspended and an ambulance called. 

Hague Tribunal spokesperson Nenad Golcevski told BIRN that Praljak was given immediate medical attention but refused to give any further details.

"The judges are now deliberating whether to go on with the hearing," he said.

Praljak, 72, is the former chief of the Main Headquarters of the Croatian Defence Council, the HVO, the armed forces of the unrecognised wartime Croat-led statelet of Herzeg-Bosnia.

Before the interruption, the appeals chamber of the UN court had upheld the first-instance verdict from 2013 convicting the six men, all former Herzeg-Bosnia political or military officials, of a series of wartime crimes against Bosniaks.

Jadranko Prlic, Bruno Stojic, Slobodan Praljak, Milivoj Petkovic, Valentin Coric and Berislav Pusic were all found guilty of crimes against humanity and other crimes against Bosniaks while they were senior political and military officials of the Herzeg-Bosnia statelet during wartime.

The Tribunal also confirmed the finding from the first-instance verdict that the then president of Croatia, Franjo Tudjman, as well as some other senior Croatian officials, participated in a joint criminal enterprise with the defendants with the aim of persecuting Bosniaks.  

Prlic, the former prime minister of the Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia and the senior figure among the defendants, was jailed for 25 years.

Stojic, the defence minister of the Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia, was jailed for 20 years, as were HVO chief Praljak and Petkovic, who was the HVO’s deputy commander.

Coric, the former commander of the HVO’s military police, was sentenced to 16 years in jail, while Pusic, the president of Herzeg-Bosnia’s Commission for the Exchange of Prisoners, was given ten years.

Joint criminal enterprise with Croatian president

Rejecting appeals filed by the convicts, the Tribunal confirmed that they were participants in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at the “unification of the Croatian people” within the borders of the Banate of Croatia from 1939, as determined by the first-instance verdict.

Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, his Defence Minister Gojko Susak and the chief of the Main Headquarters of the Croatian Army, Janko Bobetko, participated in the criminal enterprise as well, the court ruled. Croatia strongly denied this allegation in the run-up to the appeals verdict.

The Tribunal also confirmed the finding from the first-instance verdict that Croatia, acting through the Bosnian Croat armed force, the Croatian Defence Council, HVO, held the eight municipalities in Bosnia and Herzegovina that were part of Herzeg-Bosnia “under occupation”.

“There are numerous indications that, acting through the Croatian Defence Council, Croatia had real authority” in the eight municipalities which are covered by the indictment, said presiding judge Carmel Agius.

However the court acquitted the defendants of responsibility for the destruction of the historic Old Bridge in Mostar in November 1993, saying that the bridge, which was destroyed by the HVO, was a military target, given that its destruction led to the cutting of the Bosnian Army’s supply lines.

Bosnian Croats and Bosniaks had fought side by side against the Serbs at the start of the war, but in late 1992 a conflict erupted between the two sides, which continued until it was resolved by a peace deal in 1994.

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