An appeals court on Friday overturned the conviction of the most senior Croatian military officer charged with crimes during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. The court ordered the immediate release of Ante Gotovina, who was commander in the Split district of the Croatian army, who had been sentenced to 24 years in prison, and of Mladen Markač, a Croatian police commander, overturning his 18-year sentence.
Two Croatian military leaders have been convicted at The Hague of atrocities against Serbs during a 1995 campaign of ethnic cleansing. Many Croats denounced the verdict.
Judges at the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia sentenced Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač who were found guilty of crimes including murder, persecution and plunder. The rulings came after a three year trial investigating Operation Storm, a Croatian offensive carried out in 1995 to reclaim the republic of Krajina from Serb control.
The defendants were accused of having failed to prevent their forces from killing hundreds of people and forcing thousands from their home. What’s more, the judges ruled that Croatia’s political leadership, including the late president, were also guilty by association. What is the most sensitive aspect of the verdict is this joint criminal enterprise point, implying that it was not just Gotovina himself, but what happened during the Operation Storm happened in collusion and in a way in collaboration with the highest ranks of Croatia's political and military leadership.
The prosecution claims the trio (Gotovina, along with Ivan Čermak, the Knin garrison commander, and Mladen Markač) implemented a calculated policy of expulsion ordered by the Tudjman regime aimed at permanently ridding Croatia of the large Serbian minority community that had been resident there for centuries. After the "victory", Croatian forces went on the rampage, torching the homes of elderly Serbs who had not fled.
Croats consider Gotovina and Markac national heroes. The influential Roman Catholic church has been calling for prayers and fasting in the hope of an acquittal. The decisive political leaders such as president Franjo Tudjman, defence minister Gojko Šušak, and army chief Janko Bobetko all died before they could face trial. The Gotovina case has served as a substitute. For many Croats, the generals symbolize the country's independence and the beginning of the operation is celebrated as a public holiday called Victory Day. The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia said Gen Ante Gotovina and Gen Mladen Markac should be released immediately after ruling in favour of their appeal. The case closed as the former Yugoslav republic prepares to join the European Union next July and struggles to recover after three years of recession or stagnation. The verdict will be a judgment not only on the generals, but on all the veterans and also on the Croatian state - the future EU member.
The Hague Tribunal farce
Not many eyebrows will be raised at the revelation that there is a prison, in a small foreign country, where you can be indefinitely incarcerated without trial, or where you can be delivered on the orders of an ad-hoc "court" which sets its own rules as it goes along, and sometimes issues warrants only after politically motivated arrests had been performed.
Some may be surprised, however, that this "far-away country" is not North Korea, Bourkina Fasso or Syria, but the civilized tittle Holland. The prison is in the North Sea resort of Scheveningen, a wind-swept melange of belle epoque hotels and 1960s concrete tower blocks. The court in question is ten miles away, in The Hague, and it goes by the name ofThe International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia Since 1 January 1991. The Hague Tribunal (ICTFY) was established by the Security Council of the United Nations in 1993 on the basis of Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter (Resolution 827), with the "jurisdiction" for crimes committed after January 1,1991. The U.N. Genocide Convention could not, in any case, provide the basis for the Tribunal. It is an international treaty, approved by the General Assembly and ratified by member-states, which does not endow the U.N. with radical new powers. In fact, the Security Council acted illegally in setting up the Tribunal; it had no authority to do so. Boutros-Ghali himself declared that, "in asking the Secretary- General to consider this project, the Security Council has given itself an entirely new mandate." It is noteworthy that the Tribunal has not been established by convention in the General Assembly, which would have then required accession by treaty ratification of each member. Invocation of Article 29 in the resolution establishing the Tribunal gives the game away: The Security Council may establish such subsidiary organs as it deems necessary for the performance of its functions. This amounts to an admission that the Tribunal is not an "independent court of law," but a "subsidiary organ" of its political masters. The obvious question is why only "the former Yugoslavia," and why only the past five years? A cynic might say that one possible reason was that the United States did not want to put its generals on trial for killing Vietnaimese civilians. As Noam Chomsky put it, "I think, legally speaking, there's a very solid case for impeaching every American president since the Second World War. They've aIl been either outright war criminals or involved in serious war crimes ".
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"The tribunal is a sick and very expensive joke, along with its clones the Rwandan tribunal and the International Criminal Court set up by the Rome Treaty of 1998 and wisely boycotted by the United States." - Gerald Warner explains (Gerald Warner is an author, broadcaster, columnist and polemical commentator at The Telegraph).
"International tribunals are Trojan horses for tyrannical world government. They have no legitimacy. Only sovereignty confers the right to put people on trial and there is no international sovereignty. This tribunal is a convenient cop-out for states like Serbia. If Serbia tried and convicted Karadzic that would testify to its fitness to take its place among the nations. The tribunal is a charade."
Millions of words can be spoken about the mistakes of leaders of the Balkan state, but external forces played the major role in the collapse of Yugoslavia. It was preventing the creation of a more malleable Europe in which NATO and Brussels movers and shakers could dominate. Serbs constituted the pivot of the Yugoslav nation and it was precisely they who tried vainly to keep the country’s unity, and it has now transpired that they, more than any other nationality, are guilty for the calamities that befell Yugoslavia. At any rate, it is being demonstrated by the Hague Tribunal’s activity, a Tribunal set up putatively to objectively look into the whys and causes of the bloody Balkan tragedy. Alas, objectivity can’t be found in the Tribunal’s dictionary. The few Bosnian and Croat criminals brought before the Tribunal have all but been allowed to go scot-free; laughable prison terms have either been slapped on them or sentenced to prison term conditionally. Three quarters of those who got real prison terms have been Serbs, reducing the Tribunal to an instrument of pressure by the West on Belgrade.
Moscow has minced no words in vowing that it will never again vote for an extension of the mandate of the International Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, since its work is characterized more by farce than substance. It’s time to move from ad hoc judicial bodies to working on a universal basis, on the basis of judicial procedure, thrashed out via international conventions.
Other Croatian atrocities that went unpunished
After Germany and its Axis allies invaded Yugoslavia in April 1941, the Nazis permitted the fascist and terrorist Ustaša organization to found the Independent State of Croatia. The new regime was highly dependent upon German support for survival. The territory of the Independent State of Croatia included two constituent units of former Yugoslavia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, with a total population of about 6.3 million. More than half of the population, or 3.3 million, were ethnic Croats, most of them Catholic. The 1.9 million Serbs were the largest ethnic minority. Most of them were Serbian Orthodox and some were of the Uniate faith. Other minorities included approximately 700,000 Muslims, 40,000 Jews, and 30,000 Roma (Gypsies). During the spring and summer of 1941, the Ustaša regime enacted racial laws aimed at Jews and Roma and launched a brutal campaign to dispossess, persecute, and murder large numbers of Serbs. Ustaša units, often encouraged by Catholic clergy, carried out a program of compulsory conversion of Orthodox Serbs to Catholicism; resistance often resulted in murder. Some Serbs, particularly members of the elite, were not even offered the option of conversion to avoid being killed. The Ustaša authorities established numerous concentration camps in Croatia between 1941 and 1945. These camps were used to isolate and murder Serbs, Jews, Roma, Muslims, and other non-Catholic minorities, as well as Croatian political and religious opponents of the regime. The largest of these centers was the Jasenovac complex, a string of five camps on the bank of the Sava River, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) south of Zagreb. Between 1941 and 1945, Germans and Ustaša killed approximately 32,000 Jews from Croatia. The precise number of Jews murdered in Jasenovac is not known, but estimates range between 8,000 and 20,000 victims. These numbers do not include Jews whom the Ustaša authorities turned over to the Germans for deportation to Auschwitz and other camps. Due to differing views and lack of documentation, estimates for the number of Serbian victims in Croatia range widely, from 25,000 to more than one million. The estimated number of Serbs killed in Jasenovac ranges from 25,000 to 700,000. The most reliable figures place the number of Serbs killed by the Ustaša between 330,000 and 390,000, with 45,000 to 52,000 Serbs murdered in Jasenovac.
Opening First-ever Thematic Debate on Global Criminal Justice
Opening First-ever Thematic Debate on Global Criminal Justice