The Hague Tribunal was wrong to acquit two Croatian generals of war crimes, the court's chief prosecutor says.
Generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac were acquitted in November of war crimes committed during the Croatian military operation codenamed ‘Oluja’ [‘Storm’] in 1995, overturning a previous guilty verdict from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY.
But there is no doubt that the crimes listed in their indictment were real, insisted Serge Brammertz, the court’s chief prosecutor.
“The reality is that the crimes took place and in the eyes of the victims, justice has not been achieved,” Brammertz said in an interview with Serbian local newspaper Vecernje Novosti on Friday.
He questioned the verdict, which overturned on appeal the ICTY’s previous conviction of the generals in 2011, sparking celebrations in Zagreb but anger in Belgrade.
“During the appeal procedure we tried to explain to the judges that there was enough evidence to confirm the first-instance verdict. We presented a lot of evidence during the two-year appeal procedure and listed 1,300 pages of closing arguments. But we have to accept that three of five judges didn’t think so,” he said.
Presiding judge Theodor Meron said the ICTY chamber had concluded, with two judges dissenting, that the evidence presented by the prosecution was insufficient to support a finding that artillery attacks on the Croatian towns of Knin, Gracac, Obrovac and Benkovac were unlawful.
“Now it is time for local courts to continue investigations and prosecutions related to war crimes committed before and after Operation Storm, and we will provide them all the evidence we gathered,” said Brammertz.
He added that it might be possible for the case against Gotovina and Markac to be reopened if the ICTY prosecution finds new evidence that was not presented during the trial.
The United Nations has extended the mandate of the Hague Tribunal judges until the end of 2014 in order to finish ongoing cases, although new cases cannot be opened.
In its resolution adopted last month, the UN requested that the ICTY take “all possible measures to complete its work as expeditiously as possible to facilitate its closure by December 31, 2014” and to present a completion strategy by April 15, 2013.
This will enable transition to a ‘residual mechanism’ – a process intended to complete the remaining ICTY’s remaining tasks such as possible appeals once its mandate expires.