News 28 Nov 17

Prayers for Bosnian Croat War Crimes Defendants Criticised

Controversy has erupted over a prayer meeting in support of six Bosnian Croat wartime officials whose final verdicts for crimes against humanity will be handed down by the Hague Tribunal this week. 

Igor Spaic
A Facebook advert announcing the prayer meeting for "the Croatian prisoners in The Hague". Photo: Facebook.

Two Bosnian Croat groups are holding the controversial prayer meeting in Mostar on Tuesday evening, a day before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague decides on the six wartime officials’ appeal against their conviction.

The defendants’ supporters will light candles and attend a mass at the Cathedral of Mary, Mother of the Church in the Bosnian town which saw fierce fighting between Croats and Bosniaks during wartime.

The prayer meeting is bring organised by an association that provides legal aid to former fighters from the Croatian Defence Council and by the Croatian Heart of Hope, an NGO that brings together Croat war veterans and “supports Croats in maintaining their tradition”.

The six defendants - Jadranko Prlic, Bruno Stojic, Slobodan Praljak, Milivoje Petkovic, Valentin Coric and Berislav Pusic, all officials from the unrecognised wartime Herzeg-Bosnia statelet, whose capital was Mostar - were sentenced to a combined 111 years behind bars in 2013 for crimes against humanity.

They were convicted of involvement in a campaign of persecution against Bosniaks and Croats in Herzegovina and central Bosnia, which included killings, rapes, inhumane treatment, illegal detentions, the destruction of cultural facilities and the terrorising of civilians.

The prayer meeting has attracted support from some Bosnian Croats, but criticism from some Bosniaks and Serbs.

Dr. Franjo Topic, a professor of fundamental theology at the Faculty of Catholic Theology in Sarajevo, said he saw nothing wrong with the gathering.

“It is always good to pray,” Topic told BIRN.

“People pray for their personal, family and social needs. They especially pray when they are in misfortune. This is a misfortune for ‘the six’ [Bosnian Croat defendants], and in a way for Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina too,” he said.

“We should pray for the consequences to be as small as possible,” he added.

But Father Mile Babic, a professor of Franciscan Theology in Sarajevo, called the gathering “a betrayal of faith”.

“They should organizse a gathering for the victims,” he told local news magazine Slobodna Bosna, calling the gathering an “instrumentalisation of faith” for political purposes.

Luka Raguz, a Bosnian Croat activist and a devout Catholic, agreed.

“Everyone should pray for all victims no matter what their religion or national background, because a victim is a victim,” Raguz told BIRN.

“But everyone should also condemn every war criminal individually, because those who committed any sort of crime cannot hide behind the people,” he added.

The atmosphere has become tense ahead of the verdict in places where the six men are accused of having committed crimes.

“Try to understand, it is difficult these days,” a Bosniak from Stolac, who was held in several Croat-run detention camps during the Bosnian war, told BIRN, explaining why he wanted to remain anonymous.

He criticised the prayer meeting but said he was not angry at Catholics because of it.

“Faith cannot and should not support those who committed crimes. It should be in the service of the people and the truth, and not be accommodating towards war criminals,” he said.

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