News 30 Nov 17

Courtroom Suicide Overshadows Slobodan Praljak’s Crimes

The suicide of Bosnian Croat military chief Slobodan Praljak at the Hague Tribunal diverted attention from his verdict, but the testimonies of war victims show how serious his crimes were.

Emina Dizdarevic
Slobodan Praljak. Photo: Beta/Hina/Dario Grizelj.

Testimonies of war victims interviewed by BIRN before and after the verdict convicting Slobodan Praljak and five other wartime Bosnian Croat military and political leaders give an insight into the crimes that have been overshadowed by his sudden and dramatic death in The Hague.

Praljak, who died after taking poison in court on Wednesday, was the wartime chief of the Main Headquarters of the Croatian Defence Council, HVO, the armed forces of the unrecognised Croat-led statelet of Herzeg-Bosnia.

Amongst other crimes, he was convicted of responsibility for a massacre committed by the HVO in which 36 people, including three children, were killed in the village of Stupni Do in Bosnia’s Vares municipality on October 23, 1993.

During the attack on Stupni Do, Bosnian Croat forces took control of the village, raped women, killed most of the people they captured and robbed houses before setting them on fire.

“The HVO attacked us without provocation - there was one especially vicious unit called the Maturice. They carried out the killings. I remember seeing the bodies… Horrible,” Emir Likic, the president of the local community of Stupni Do, who survived the massacre but lost family members in the attack, told BIRN.

His cousin Salem Likic was in Stupni Do that day too, but also managed to survive the attack.

“Words cannot describe the horrors of that day - our fear and trepidation… Young children two to three years old to elderly men of 77, all butchered... Me, my wife and daughter barely survived those executioners by hiding in the basement,” he told BIRN.

The Hague Tribunal cited an order that Praljak issued that day, asking his subordinates to “to sort out the situation in Vares showing no mercy to anyone” using men who were “up to the tasks”.

The UN court found that Praljak’s role in the attack on Stupni Do was his facilitation of the crimes by contributing to efforts to conceal them, and to planning and directing the HVO’s military operation in the Vares municipality in general.

Praljak was also convicted of responsibility for the HVO’s detention camps in Dretelj and Gabela, where Bosniaks were held and abused.

The Tribunal’s verdict said that Praljak knew of the poor conditions at the HVO detention camps and accepted the crimes committed there.

Sead Veleder, who spent six months in detention at Gabela, told BIRN that before arriving, he and many Bosniak men believed they would be held in a prison, but upon arrival they realised it was “more like a concentration camp”.

“We understood immediately what it would be like. I would have been better off being dead... There were a total of 600 people inside with me. All of us were beaten,” Veleder said.

Praljak and the five other wartime Bosnian Croat officials were also convicted of participating in a joint criminal enterprise with the president of Croatia, Franjo Tudjman, and other senior Croatian officials, with the aim of persecuting Bosniaks.

Praljak made use of his dual role as an HVO commander and as a Croatian general and advisor to President Tudjman to further the criminal enterprise, the prosecution claimed during the trial.

Emir Likic, who survived the HVO massacre in Stupni Do, said he found it hard to believe that Praljak was able to poison himself in court.

“I’m disgusted… I can’t believe an international court would allow something dangerous like this to be taken inside the courtroom. They weren’t competent enough to check people for banned substances,” he said.

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