News 17 Oct 17

Croatian 1990s General Pleads Not Guilty to War Crimes

Croatian wartime general Branimir Glavas, now an MP, and five others accused of war crimes against Serb civilians in the city of Osijek in 1991-92 pleaded not guilty at Zagreb county court.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Branimir Glavas in court on Monday. Photo: Betaphoto/Hina/Denis Ceric/MO.

The retrial of Branimir Glavas, the 1990s Croatian general, right-wing political party leader and MP, and five other defendants started at Zagreb county court on Monday.

Glavas, along with Ivica Krnjak, Gordana Getos Magdic, Dino Kontic, Tihomir Valentic and Zdravko Dragic, pleaded not guilty to charges that they were responsible for the executions of Croatian Serb civilians in the eastern city of Osijek in 1991 and 1992.

The trial includes two merged cases - the first named ‘Garage’, in which one victim was executed in front of a garage in 1991 after being forced to drink car battery acid, and the second named ‘Sellotape’, in which victims were tied up with tape and executed on the Drava riverbank in Osijek in 1991-92.

Six Serb civilians were executed, one managed to escape, while another was tortured and survived.

Glavas’s lawyer, Drazen Matijevic argued in court on Monday that the indictment should not be based on the Geneva Conventions.

Matijevic claimed that the conventions only protect foreign nationals, while all the victims in the case were Croatian citizens and thus “enjoyed the protection of the constitutional order of the Republic of Croatia”.

He also argued that the Protocol II amendment to the Geneva Conventions, protecting civilian victims of non-international armed conflict, should also not be used in the case.

He said the court was wrongly claiming that there was no international conflict at the time when the crimes took place.

When the Croatian Constitutional Court quashed Glavas’s conviction in January 2015, it argued that the final judgment of the Croatian Supreme Court in June 2010 should have used Protocol II for all events that occurred before October 8, 1991, when Croatia broke its ties with Yugoslavia.

Some of the crimes of which Glavas is accused were committed before October 8, 1991.

Defence teams are also arguing that the court should exclude from evidence the testimony of Glavas’s former subordinate, Krunoslav Fehir, who testified how the victims were tortured by being made to drink battery acid and how one person was shot in front of the garage.

Zagreb county court initially jailed Glavas for ten years in 2009.

But when he was sentenced, he fled Croatia for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Croatia's Supreme Court upheld the 2009 conviction in July 2010, then a Bosnian court confirmed the verdict, and Glavas was jailed in Mostar.

But the Bosnian verdict was quashed in 2015, and he was released from prison in Bosnia, and returned to Osijek.

In July last year, the Supreme Court then quashed the verdict issued by Zagreb county court in 2009, and ordered a retrial.

During the independence war in Croatia, Glavas commanded the defence of Osijek in 1991-92 against the combined forces of the Yugoslav Army and Serbian paramilitaries, and attained the rank of general.

After the war he became a high-ranking member of Croatia's main centre-right party, the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, for which he served as a member of parliament and as mayor of Osijek-Baranja County.

After he quit the HDZ in 2005, he founded the Croatian Democratic Alliance of Slavonia and Baranja, HDSSB party, consolidating his political grip on the Osijek and Baranja regions.

Following his break with the HDZ, the state attorney started investigating war crimes against Serbs in Osijek.

Glavas was first arrested in October 2006 over the ‘Garage’ case.

An additional indictment was raised in April 2007 in the ‘Sellotape’ case.

After being released from a Bosnian jail in 2015, he continued his political career with the right-wing HDSSB party, winning a seat in parliament at the general elections in November that year.

The retrial will continue on November 10.

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