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Serbo-Croatian War / Homeland War - War Crime Trials

Some anti-democratic, right-wing elements remain active in Croatia, especially among veterans groups that resent the governments cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal forthe Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague. Croatia was accepted as a candidate for EU membership in June 2004; the EU opened accession negotiations on 3 October 2005 following an assessment by the then Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte that Croatia was co-operating fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.

General Tihomir Blaskic who led Croat troops in central Bosnia during the war, was found guilty in March 2000 on 20 counts, including crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva convention and violations of the laws or customs of war. Blaskic was sentenced to 45 years in jail - the longest prison term handed out by the UN war crimes tribunal and the first verdict against a senior military officer in the former Yugoslavia. Djuro Brodarac, a Croatian police general charged with torturing and killing Serbian civilians in the early 1990s, died 13 July 2011. Brodarac, 67, was in custody in the city jail at Osijek after being arrested several weeks earlier.

In December 2005 the one remaining impediment to Croatia's entry into NATO was removed when General Ante Gotovina, the alleged Croatian war criminal, was arrested in Spain, charged with eight counts of war crimes. General Gotovina, one of the most famous generals of Croatia, was transferred to The Hague to stand trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Ante Gotovina was overall operations commander of that part of Operation Storm which took place in UNPA Sector South. As such, and as Commander of the Split Military District, Ante GOTOVINA exercised de jure and de facto command and control over all Croatian forces between 4 August 1995 and 15 November 1995.

According to the 21 May 2001 ICTY indictment of Gotovina, "Between 4 August 1995 and 15 November 1995, large numbers of Krajina Serbs fled or were forced to flee to Bosnia Herzegovina and Serbia. Some who did not flee because of sickness, infirmity or age were systematically harassed, and/or unlawfully killed. The property of Krajina Serbs was plundered.... Between 4 August 1995 and 15 November 1995, Croatian forces committed numerous violations of international humanitarian law, including the unlawful killing of at least 150 Krajina Serbs and the disappearance of many hundreds of others.... Between 4 August 1995 and 15 November 1995, those who remained in, or returned to, their homes in the weeks after the offensive were ultimately forced to flee the area as a result of continued killing, arson, looting, harassment, terror and threats of physical harm to person and property committed by Croatian forces. The cumulative effect of these unlawful acts was a large-scale deportation and/or displacement of an estimated 150,000 - 200,000 Krajina Serbs to Bosnia Herzegovina and Serbia. ... By these acts and omissions, Ante Gotovina did commit ... a CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY, namely, Persecutions on political, racial and religious grounds..."

The objective of this alleged criminal enterprise was the permanent removal of the Serb population from the Krajina region. According to the Prosecution, the enterprise amounted to or involved the commission of the crimes of persecution, deportation and forcible transfer, plunder, and destruction. According to the Prosecution, the members of this joint criminal enterprise included, in addition to the three Accused, Croatian President Franjo Tudman, Minister of Defence Gojko uak, and the successive Chiefs of the Main Staff of the Croatian Army, Janko Bobetko and Zvonimir Cervenko. These members of the Joint Criminal Enterprise allegedly used, or cooperated with, others to facilitate or carry out the crimes. These other participants included government officials and members of the Croatian army, the military police, the Special Police, and the civilian police. According to the Prosecution, the Accused participated in and acted in furtherance of the joint criminal enterprise in various ways.

During the period relevant to the Indictment, Mladen Markac was the Assistant Minister of the Interior and Operation Commander of the Special Police in Croatia. The Trial Chamber found that Mr. Markac shared the objective of and significantly contributed to a criminal enterprise whose common purpose was to permanently remove the Serb civilian population from the Krajina region, by ordering an unlawful artillery attack on Gracac and by creating a climate of impunity through his failure to prevent, investigate, or punish crimes committed by members of the Special Police against Serb civilians. The Trial Chamber found Mr. Markac guilty.

The Trial Chamber acquitted the third Accused, Ivan Cermak, of all charges against him. On 15 April 2011 Gotovina was sentenced to a single sentence of 24 years of imprisonment for persecution, deportation, murder, and inhumane acts as crimes against humanity, and of plunder of public and private property, wanton destruction, murder, and cruel treatment as violations of the laws or customs of war. Mladen Markac was sentenced to a single sentence of 18 years of imprisonment for the same crimes. Mr. Gotovina submitted four grounds of appeal and Mr. Markac submitted eight grounds of appeal. Both of the Appellants challenge their convictions in their entirety.

The Appeals Judgement acquited Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac on 16 November 2012. The Appeals Chamber, Judge Agius and Judge Pocar dissenting, considered that the touchstone of the Trial Chambers analysis concerning the existence of a Joint Criminal Enterprise [JCE] was its conclusion that unlawful artillery attacks targeted civilians and civilian objects in the Four Towns [Knin, Benkovac, Obrovac, and Gracac], and that these unlawful attacks caused the deportation of large numbers of civilians from the Krajina region. The Trial Chambers finding that the artillery attacks on the Four Towns were unlawful was heavily premised on its analysis of individual impact sites within the Four Towns. The Trial Chamber found that all impact sites located more than 200 meters from a target it deemed legitimate served as evidence of an unlawful artillery attack. "The Appeals Chamber unanimously holds that the Trial Chamber erred in deriving the 200 Metre Standard. The Trial Judgement contains no indication that any evidence considered by the Trial Chamber suggested a 200 metre margin of error, and it is devoid of any specific reasoning as to how the Trial Chamber derived this margin of error... the Appeals Chamber is unanimous in finding that the Trial Chamber erred in adopting a margin of error that was not linked to the evidence it received.... no reasonable trial chamber could conclude beyond reasonable doubt that the Four Towns were subject to unlawful artillery attacks.

"The Appeals Chamber recalls that the Trial Chamber explicitly considered evidence that Mr. Gotovina adopted numerous measures to prevent and minimise crimes and general disorder among the HV troops under his control. The Appeals Chamber further recalls that expert testimony at trial indicated that Mr. Gotovina took all necessary and reasonable measures to maintain order among his subordinates.... The Appeals Chamber notes that the Trial Chamber did not explicitly find that Mr. Markac made a substantial contribution to relevant crimes committed by the Special Police or that he possessed effective control over the Special Police."

Though many Croats consider the two convicted generals to be national heroes and the operation they directed to be the legitimate liberation of Croatian territory, the Zagreb government agreed to cooperate with the U.N. probe to help pave the way for membership in the European Union. Thousands of people in Croatia's capital Zagreb cheered the courts ruling.

But Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic reacted angrily, saying the verdict seriously jeopardized the principle of punishment in war crimes cases. This is one of the greatest war crimes in the territory of the former Yugoslavia, killings, expulsion and endangering several hundreds of thousands of people and nobody has answered for it, he was quoted by as saying. The Hague Tribunal has lost all credibility, said Rasim Ljajic, the president of Serbia's National Council for Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal. The decision of the Appeals Chamber takes us three steps back and a perception of the Tribunal in our public will be even worse, Ljajic said. United Serbia leader Dragan Markovic has said that the acquittal "legalizes" the biggest ethnic cleansing in Europe since WWII.

On 16 October 2012, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) began its last trial. Goran Hadzic was the final defendant of 161 individuals tried by the Tribunal; he is accused of crimes against humanity and violating the law and customs of war. He was also the President of the self-proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina. The indictment, as revised in March 2012, alleges that Hadzic "planned, instigated, ordered, committed and/or abetted" a criminal enterprise from April 1991 through December 1995 that was designed to permanently and by forceful means remove the majority of the Croatian and other non-Serbian people from Croatia.

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Page last modified: 16-11-2012 13:28:57 ZULU