News 23 Mar 16

Croatia Tries to Clear Ex-President Tudjman’s Name

Croatia’s justice minister asked the Hague war crimes tribunal for his country to be given ‘friend of the court’ status in an attempt to prove the innocence of 1990s President Franjo Tudjman.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Franjo Tudjman. Photo: Office of the Croatian President.

Ante Sprlje, the justice minister in Croatia’s new centre-right government, wrote to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY on Tuesday, asking for Croatia to be given the status of ‘friend of the court’ (amicus curiae) in a case against six Bosnian Croat officials, allowing Zagreb to provide evidence to clear Tudjman and two of his top officials.

Former Bosnian Croat leaders Jadranko Prlic, Bruno Stojic, Slobodan Praljak, Milivoj Petkovic, Valentin Coric and Berislav Pusic are currently appealing against war crimes convictions for the expulsions of Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s.

Croatia wants ‘friend of the court’ status in the case because the indictment mentions ex-president Tudjman, his defence minister Gojko Susak and chief of the general staff of the Croatian Army Janko Bobetko as a part of “joint criminal enterprise”.

The status would allow Croatia to present testimony or other information during the case without being on trial itself, which Sprlje sees as an opportunity to prove the innocence of Tudjman, Susak and Bobetko, who are all now deceased.

Sprlje argued that during the initial trial, the court “failed to present any evidence that they ever intended to commit crimes”.

“The trial chamber also violated the presumption of innocence guaranteed by the rules of the European Convention on Human Rights by concluding that President Tudjman, minister Susak and General Bobetko were members of a joint criminal enterprise,” he said.

The indictment said that Tudjman wanted to revive Banovina, an autonomous province in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia between 1939 and 1941 which included parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

But Sprlje argued that the court had confused this political project with “criminal intent to commit crimes”.

He also cited the precedent of the tribunal’s decision in 2001 to give ‘friend of the court’ status to Serbia in the case against Slobodan Milosevic.

In the initial verdict in May 2013, the Hague court sentenced Prlic to 25 years in prison, Stojic, Praljak and Petkovic to 20, Coric to 16 and Pusic to ten years.

The appeal verdict is due in November 2017.

Tudjman was Croatia’s president between 1990 and 1999 and oversaw its transition to independence but was criticised for his semi-authoritarian rule.

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