News 30 Nov 17

Croatia Expresses Shock at Hague Tribunal Suicide

Croatia’s president and media expressed shock at the courtroom suicide of Slobodan Praljak, while simulateously criticising the Hague Tribunal’s conviction of six wartime Bosnian Croat military and political leaders.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Croatian MPs hold a minute's silence for Slobodan Praljak. Photo: BETAPHOTO/HINA/Lana SLIVAR DOMINIC/DS.

The day after the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia convicted six wartime Bosnian Croat officials, President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic on Thursday expressed sadness that one of them, Slobodan Praljak, died after apparently swallowing poison in the courtroom.

Grabar Kitarovic described Praljak as “a man that would rather take his life than live convicted of deeds he did not commit”.

“His act deeply hit the heart of the Croatian people,” she said.

Croatia’s main daily newspapers, Jutarnji list and Vecernji list, printed almost identical front pages, with photographs of Praljak drinking what he said was poison in the Hague Tribunal courtroom.

“Horrible end to the Hague Tribunal … Praljak drank poison – he could not live with such a verdict,” Jutarnji’s front-page headline said.

“Shock in The Hague … ‘I am not a criminal, with indignation I reject the verdict',” Vecernji’s front page said, quoting Praljak’s last words in court.

Grabar Kitarovic meanwhile rejected the part of the verdict that said Croatia had played a role in the Bosnian war by supporting the unrecognised Croat-led Herzeg-Bosnia statelet, whose forces committed crimes against Bosniaks.

“Croatia was not an aggressor but did the most for the survival of the entire Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Croat people first faced Greater Serbian aggression, defending [Bosnia and Herzegovina’s] survival,” she said.

Grabar Kitarovic argued that most humanitarian aid came to Bosnia through Croatia, while Croatia housed thousands of Bosniak refugees and treated wounded Bosnian Army soldiers.

She also said that the ICTY’s Appeals Chamber stated in 2016 that the Trial Chamber did not establish the participation of Croatian officials in a joint criminal enterprise to commit crimes in Bosnia, nor their criminal responsibility.

The Appeals Chamber named Croatian 1990s President Franjo Tudjman, Defence Minister Gojko Susak and Chief of the General Staff of the Croatia Army, Janko Bobetko, as members of the joint criminal enterprise in the final verdict read out on Wednesday.

But it said that it did not establish the guilt of the three officials or specify their role, as that could only be established through court proceedings. None of them were ever tried and all are now deceased.

In her speech, Grabar Kitarovic did admit that some Bosnian Croats committed crimes.

“We Croats must have the strength to admit that some of our fellow countrymen in Bosnia and Herzegovina committed a crime, for which they must be held responsible. It is unjust that Bosniak and Serb crimes were not punished in the same way,” she said.

However she accused the ICTY of failing “to leave its own mark in bringing justice to the victims of crimes” and accused it of setting itself up as “a political arbitrator rather than a judicial body”.

The Croatian parliament also expressed dissatisfaction with the verdict. Chairperson Gordan Jandrokovic started Thursday’s session by reading out a statement from parliament presidency’s condemning the ICTY ruling.

“MPs’ clubs agreed that the final verdict does not respect the historical truth, facts and evidence and as such is unjust and unacceptable,” Jandrokovic said.

He said that by committing suicide, Praljak pointed to the “injustice of the appeal verdict”.

He added that after the ICTY publishes its full verdict, the Croatian parliament will issue a joint declaration. MPs then held a minute of silence for Praljak.

However, many opposition MPs were not present at the session. Social Democratic Party MP Arsen Bauk said he didn’t want “to pay respects to a sentenced war criminal”.

One of them, Goran Beus Richemberg, MP of the Civic Liberal Party, GLAS, said on Thursday that parliament should be a place where the rule of law should be defended.

“Without belittling anyone’s role in historical events, we [GLAS] can’t accept that this is the way to pay respects to a person who has a verdict for committing war crimes,” Beus Richemberg said.

He added that if Croatia does not accept the ICTY’s verdict on the six Bosnian Croats, then it calls into question acquittal verdicts for Croatian generals Ante Gotovina, Mladen Markac and Ivan Cermak, as well as Bosnian Croat general Tihomir Blaskic.

The ICTY acquitted Gotovina, Markac and Cermak in 2012 for crimes committed during and after Croatia’s 1995 military operation ‘Storm’, and acquitted Blaskic in 2004 of commiting crimes in central Bosnia.

After his statement, Beus Richemberg received death threats via Facebook Messenger, and informed the police.

The umbrella 1990s war veterans’ association, HVIDRA, also condemned Beus Richemberg’s statements, as well as statements gave the former Croatian President Stjepan Mesic and former Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic – who all either welcomed the verdict or simply concluded that they were a result of Croatia’s poor policy on Bosnia in the 1990s.

However, there were no protests against the verdict as there were when Gotovina was initially convicted in 2011, before being subsequently acquitted on appeal.

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