Hague Tribunal quashes first instance verdict that jailed Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac for 24 and 18 years respectively for crimes against Serbs in 'Operation Storm'.
Gotovina and Markac awaiting the ICTY verdict
Photo by Beta
The Appeal Chamber of the Hague Tribunal on Friday ruled that Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac were not guilty of killings, deportation and inhumane treatments of Serb civilians during the Croatian military operation codenamed "Oluja" ["Storm"] in the summer of 1995.
Judge Theodor Meron quashed the first-instance verdict of April 15, 2011, under which Gotovina and Markac were jailed for 24 and 18 years, respectively, for involvement in a "joint criminal enterprise" aimed at the forcible removal of Serbs from the Krajina region in Croatia.
Explaining the verdict, Judge Meron said that there was no evidence proving the prosecution’s claims that the attacks on Krajina were illegal and intended to target civilians.
“I am quashing the decision of the Chamber as no reasonable Chamber, on the basis of these evidence, could rule that those attacks were illegal. We also determined that there was no forcible deportation of the civilians from this area,” Meron added.
The Appeal Chamber agreed only with one part of the first-instance verdict, which says that Gotovina was aware that crimes against civilians took place and failed to investigate them.
The first verdict had found the generals guilty of persecution, murder, deportation and other crimes against Krajina Serbs and their property during and after Operation Storm.
Meron said the Chamber had concluded, with Judge Agius and Judge Pocar 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.
Explaining why the Chamber concluded that Gotovina and Markac were not part of the Joint Criminal Enterprise, Meron said: “No reasonable trial chamber could conclude that the only reasonable interpretation of the circumstantial evidence on the record was the existence of a JCE with the common purpose of permanently removing the Serb population from the Krajina by force or threat of force.”
Meron noted that the civilian departures from towns and villages could not be characterized as deportation, “nor could it find that those involved in launching lawful artillery attacks had the intent to forcibly displace civilians”.
The Trial Chamber previously deemed Gotovina aware of crimes committed in the four towns before and after the artillery attacks, adding that Gotovina failed to follow up on the crimes.
However, the Appeals Chamber argued, with Judge Agius dissenting, that Gotovina’s role was not so extensive as to give rise to criminal liability pursuant to aiding and abetting or superior responsibility.
Regarding the case of Markac, the Appeals Chamber notes that "the Chamber did not explicitly find that Markac made a substantial contribution to relevant crimes committed by the Special Police or that he possessed effective control over the Special Police."
“Moreover the Appeals Chamber, Judge Agius and Judge Pocar dissenting, considers that all of the Trial Chamber’s findings on Markac’s culpability were made in the context of its finding of unlawful artillery attacks on the four towns,” Meron said.
Operation Storm was launched in order to recover territory seized by Serbian rebel forces at the start of the war in Croatia.
Over 200,000 Serbs fled Croatia immediately after Operation Storm. At least several dozens Serb civilians were killed in the weeks and months after the fighting stopped.
Following the verdict, the two Croatian generals have been released.