News 29 Nov 17

Bosnian Croats Await Hague Tribunal’s Final Verdict

The UN court hands down its final verdict on Wednesday on the appeal by six former officials from the unrecognised wartime Bosnian Croat statelet of Herzeg-Bosnia against convictions for crimes against humanity.

Admir Muslimovic
BIRN
The Hague
Three of the defendants, Milivoj Petkovic, Valentin Coric and Berislav Pusic. Photo: ICTY.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia will hand down its final ruling on Wednesday in the case against former Bosnian Croat political and military officials Jadranko Prlic, Bruno Stojic, Slobodan Praljak, Milivoj Petkovic, Valentin Coric and Berislav Pusic - the UN court’s last verdict before it shuts down at the end of this year.

The six former officials of the unrecognised wartime Bosnian Croat statelet of Herzeg-Bosnia were found guilty in 2013 of wartime crimes in the Bosnian municipalities of Mostar, Capljina, Ljubuski, Prozor, Vares, Gornji Vakuf and Jablanica, and sentenced to a total of 111 years in prison.

They were convicted of implementing a campaign of persecution of Bosniaks from the spring of 1993 to the spring of 1994 involving murders, rape, deportations, unlawful detentions, the destruction and confiscation of property, the destruction of villages, towns and cultural and religious buildings, forcing people to do hard labour and terrorising civilians.

Prlic was sentenced to 25 years in prison, Stojic, Praljak and Petkovic to 20 years, Coric to 16 years and Pusic to ten years for crimes against humanity.

The Tribunal determined that the crimes were committed within a joint criminal enterprise aimed at establishing “a Croat entity [in Bosnia and Herzegovina], whose borders would partially follow the borders of the Croatian republic from 1939” through the forcible and permanent deportation of the Bosniak population.

Prosecutors described the aim of the criminal enterprise as the establishment of a “Greater Croatia”.

According to the first-instance verdict, 1990s Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and two other senior Zagreb officials were part of the joint criminal enterprise with the six defendants.

Prosecutors claimed that Tudjman’s administration in Zagreb backed the unrecognised Herzeg-Bosnia statelet and was directly involved in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in crimes against Bosniaks.

Croatia however continues to insist that it played no such role in the Bosnian war.

“I expect that [the six Bosnian Croat ex-officials’ guilt] won’t be proven because the Republic of Croatia wasn’t a party in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and I hope for a verdict of acquittal,” Croatian Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic said on Tuesday.

Around 100 representatives of war victims who survived the crimes listed in the indictment are expected to travel to The Hague for the appeal verdict.

Amer Djulic, the president of the Association of Former Camp Detainees in Stolac, said that he saw torture, beatings and abuse in August 1993 at the Kostana hospital in Stolac - one of the sites at which Herzeg-Bosnia’s military force, the Croatian Defence Council, HVO, detained Bosniak prisoners.

Two of his cousins were killed there, he added.

“Whoever passed through this hospital felt the consequences. No one passed through without at least a slap. My only hope is that the truth comes out,” Djulic said.

The first-instance verdict that convicted the six defendants held them responsible for the the HVO unlawfully detaining civilians in inhumane conditions in several detention camps, where men were abused and killed, and women were subjected to sexual violence.

Ramiz Suta said he was locked up at the Dretelj detention camp, another HVO facility in nearby Capljina, where he said there was also constant abuse of prisoners.

“We drank urine. We had no blanket to cover ourselves. We slept on concrete blocks. They made us eat scorching hot food in a minute or two. Some were killed. Five men I knew died from the terror… Every day they beat us up,” said Suta.

Zijad Tucakovic, another former detainee at the HVO’s Dretelj camp, recalled how some prisoners fell unconscious because they did not have enough water.

“I want the men responsible punished, so things like this never happen again,” Tucakovic said.

After the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia closes at the end of December, its remaining work will be completed by the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals in The Hague.

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