Serbo-Croatian War / Homeland War - War Crimes
After the military actions, the Croatian government appeared less genuinely interested in creating confidence restoring measures with the Serbian community, or even in maintaining a Serb ethnic presence in Croatia. The security forces turned a blind eye to, cooperated in, or even committed many of the abuses in the reclaimed areas. The government did not effectively seek out or punish many of those involved, except in a few token cases. The government temporarily suspended key provisions of the national minorities law in September. Specific abuses committed included ethnic-based killings, arbitrary detention and torture, restrictions of movement and on repatriation, mass destruction and confiscation of property, denial of fair and expeditious trials, and infringements on freedom of speech and the press.
UNCRO officials registered 300-500 reports of killings in reclaimed parts of Croatia. Most were ethnically motivated, and occurred long after the military offensives were over. Only in the most public cases were effective investigations carried out and perpetrators punished, mostly as a result of pressure from international authorities and human rights groups. Among those implicated in the killings were civilians, civil police and active-duty military personnel, especially members of the non-professional "home guard" brigades.
Government police and military forces rounded up the remaining civilian populations of the formerly occupied areas immediately after both offensives. The very old, women, and children were confined in collection centers outside the war zone, some for several weeks. Government officials explained that this measure was taken for thepeople's own safety, until their "identification" was verified, and their homes were demined. Many homes were looted during this absence. Draft age men were taken to separate centers and held even longer until a determination was made whether they were to be investigated either for war crimes or for armed rebellion. Over 1500 men were detained after the attack on the former sector west, about 200 of whom were investigated at length. The government extended the amnesty for armed rebellion to cover the period from August 17, 1990, to May 10, 1995. Rebel Serbs apprehended in the August offensive were not amnestied.
The European Union report states, "Evidence of atrocities, an average of six corpses per day, continues to emerge. The corpses, some fresh, some decomposed, are mainly of old men. Many have been shot in the back of the head or had throats slit, others have been mutilated... Serb lands continue to be torched and looted." Following a visit in the region a member of the Zagreb Helsinki Committee reported, "Virtually all Serb villages had been destroyed.... In a village near Knin, eleven bodies were found, some of them were massacred in such a way that it was not easy to see whether the body was male or female." UN spokesman Chris Gunness noted that UN personnel continued to discover bodies, many of whom had been decapitated.
British journalist Robert Fisk reported the murder of elderly Serbs, many of whom were burned alive in their homes. He adds, "At Golubic, UN officers have found the decomposing remains of five people... the head of one of the victims was found 150 feet from his body. Another UN team, meanwhile is investigating the killing of a man and a woman in the same area after villagers described how the man's ears and nose had been mutilated."
On August 9, 1995 CIA Deputy Director for Intelligence John Gannon stated that the situation in the Krajina "... since the Croatian invasion last week differs from that in eastern Bosnia. We have not heard reports of the kinds of atrocities and human rights violations that so quickly followed the fall of Srebrenica. International observers have reported scattered human rights abuses, but so far there have been no reports of the massive, systematic abuses we have seen in Bosnia. Nonetheless, by failing to sufficiently reassure the Serb population in the Krajina or, more accurately, to follow up on Croatian Government pledges that human and civil rights would be respected, the Croatians have added measurably to humanitarian disaster in the region. Reports from the UN and relief organizations indicate that 150,000-200,000 Serb refugees are fleeing the region--that represents almost the entire Serb population of the Krajina."
The refusal to allow the mass return of Serb refugees contributed to charges that the Croatian government sought to legalize and institutionalize the population changes after the offensives to create a homogeneous country with no significant minorities.
In areas under rebel Serb control the police and military forces used violence, murder, intimidation, and displacement against minorities to settle incoming Serb refugees and achieve the goal of ethnic cleansing. Such conditions prevailed even after the loss of three regions to government forces. In May 1995, provoked by the government attack on the former sector west, "Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK) president" Martic ordered the bombing of civilian centers in free Croatia, including zagreb. At least six civilians died in these incidents. Residents of the "RSK" were subject to a controlled para-legal system operating without freedom of expression, assembly, press, religion, movement, or the right to change their government.
No progress was made on the excavation of mass grave sites in Serbian occupied areas until Croatian forces obtained control of the territory. Government sources claimed to have located over 250 mass graves, and began uncovering some of the sites. Not all of the grave exhumations were done with the international criminal tribunal on the former yugoslavia (icty). After many of the bodies were identified, they were released into the custody of family members. Based on eye-witness reports, the government charged individual rebel Serbs with murder, some of whom were tried in absentia. At the end of 1995, the government reported more than 2,800 cases of missing persons still unresolved from the 1991-1992 war. Some progress was made in removing names from the list of the missing as a result of prisoner and body exchanges, and identifications made of corpses exhumed in the reclaimed areas.
The Dayton agreement reached in November 1995 brought a general peace to the region, with mass violence by Croats against Serbs generally halting by the end of 1995. The government cooperated with international investigations of war crimes carried out by the UN. Commission of experts, permitting free access to refugees for gathering eyewitness testimony, even in cases in which croats were the likely perpetrators of the witnessed atrocities. The government pledged its cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the prosecution of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia in the Hague.
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