The international Court for war crimes in former Yugoslavia (ICTY), or Hague Tribunal, will on Wednesday, November 29, declare the final verdict to six Bosnian Croat officials in the “Jadranko Prlic and others” case. It will be the last verdict of this Court after more than 24 years of trials for the war crimes during the war in former Yugoslavia in the last decade of last century.
The case “Prlic and others” reffers to the trial of high Croatian officials linked with war crimes during the conflict between, mainly Bosniak, Army of Republic BiH and Croatian Defence Council (HVO), which lasted until the signing of the “Washington agreement”. The conflict was very brutal and both sides committed large number of war crimes including inhuman treatment, humiliation and starvation of prisoners. After Tribunal announced the indictment, Croatian officials went voluntarily to Hague and surrendered to Hague Tribunal.
Jadranko Prlic, after war occupied high positions in the BiH Council of Ministers, including the position of BiH Foreign Minister. During the war Prlic was President of the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) and prime minister of the ‘Croatian Republic of Herceg-Bosna’ (HR H-B). According to the Court, he had “knowledge of numerous crimes committed by members of the armed forces of the Croatian Community (and later Republic) of Herceg-Bosna”. He was also aware of the harsh conditions under which Muslims arrested by the HVO were detained in the Dretelj, Gabela and the Heliodrom prisons. Nevertheless, he justified the detention of Muslim civilians and denied the reality of their situation. By doing so, he accepted and abetted the extremely precarious conditions and ill-treatment of the detainees in several HVO detention centres. The Court sentenced him to 25 years imprisonment at first instance trial.
Other officials in this case were sentenced on smaller, but also long term, imprisonment. As head of the Department of Defence, Bruno Stojic, was in charge of a majority of the HVO armed forces. He is sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment. With the same sentence, the Court sentenced Slobodan Praljak, who held office within the Ministry of Defence of Croatia and then commander of the HVO Main Staff and Milivoj Petkovic, Chief of the HVO Main Staff then, from late July 1993, deputy overall commander of the HVO forces. In 16 year imprisonment, th Court sentenced Valentin Coric, who was Head of the HVO Military Police administration, and in November 1993, was appointed at the position of Minister of Interior in the HR H-B. The smallest sentence, ten years of imprisonment, the Court reserved for Berislav Pusic, who was overseeing official at the Department of Criminal Investigations of the Military Police Administration.
At the trial, as it was stressed in the judgement, “the Chamber find by a majority that a joint criminal enterprise existed and had as its ultimate goal the establishment of a Croatian territorial entity with part of the borders of the Croatian Banovina of 1939 to enable a reunification of the Croatian people. This Croatian territorial entity in BiH was either to be united with Croatia following the prospective dissolution of BiH, or become an independent state within BiH with direct ties to Croatia.
The Chamber finds, again by a majority, that as early as December 1991, the leadership of the Croatian Community of Herceg-Bosna (which included Mate Boban, President of the Croatian Community (and later Republic) of Herceg-Bosna) and Croatian leaders (including Franjo Tu|man, the President of Croatia) deemed that in order to achieve the ultimate goal, namely the establishment of a Croatian territorial entity as previously described, it was necessary to modify the ethnic composition of the territories claimed to be part of the Croatian Community of Herceg-Bosna. From at least the end of October 1992, Jadranko Prlić, Bruno Stojić, Milivoj Petković and Slobodan Praljak were aware that achieving this goal went against the peace talks conducted in Geneva and would entail moving Muslim populations out of the territory of Herceg-Bosna”.
Defence attorney, Vesna Alaburic, said the defence team expects the sentence to be reduced.
“I also expect that my client and his colleagues will be at homes for New Year’s eve. All the evidence confirms that there was no criminal plan for ethnic cleansing and we would like to see the acquittal. But if we consider all the circumstances, it’s hard to expect”, Alaburic said.
She pointed out that the reduction of the verdict is an optimistic variant. Alaburic recalled that the first-instance verdict is based on the view that there was a criminal plan for the ethnic cleansing of Muslims (Bosniaks) in the area of Herceg-Bosna at the time.
“We tried to prove that there was no ethnic cleansing or any other criminal plan to achieve political goals through criminal acts. We tried to prove the context of the events and the fact that the Army of Republic BiH was in offensive activities, that the HVO was losing the territory and that the measures were taken with the aim of preserving control over the territory of Herceg-Bosna, rather than ethnic cleansing of Muslims”, Alaburic pointed out.
Croatian member and BiH Presidency Chairman, Dragan Covic, said that the verdict, whatever it be, should not have an impact on the political situation in BiH or the position of the Croatian people. He pointed out that he expects the acquittal in the “Prlic and others” case.
“We would not bid about the ruling itself, but we believe that any verdict, like all the previous ones, evidently will not contribute to reconciliation within BiH”, Covic told reporters.
He said that the Hague Tribunal’s judgments were political and that the Hague Tribunal did not solve the key issues – how to determine the past and the war itself as an event and make a step towards reconciliation.
Asked if he expect a conflict between Bosniaks and Croats after the verdict on Wednesday, Covic said that he did not believe it would happen, but that there would be individuals who would “create incidents” at sport events.
“The Croats and Bosniaks are committed to living together, to build their future here. We must do everything to create an organism that can function. We must not fall into the trap and add oil on fire”, Covic stressed.
The “Prlic and others” case will close the Tribunal and all unfinished cases, like Karadzic and Mladic, will be transferred to United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals. The Tribunal’s formal Closing Ceremony, will take place on 19 December 2017./IBNAhttps://balkaneu.com