Monday, December 9, 2013

Croatia makes minimal progress in prosecution of war crimes

By: Natalia Radic
Produced & Edited by: Danny Medlock
It has been eleven years since the wars that broke apart the former Yugoslavia ended and while many of the war’s criminals have been brought to justice, even more have yet not been tried.
War crimes were committed on both sides of the conflict, but it is Croatia that lags the farthest behind in convicting war criminals associated with their fight for independence.
According to Balkan Insight, an impartial news site published by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, this past year saw only a fifth of war crimes fully prosecuted in Croatia – a fact that has concerned human rights groups, such as Amnesty International.
Serbia was seen as the aggressive party in the early 1990’s conflict, but the multitude of war crimes on all sides led to the formation of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Yugoslavian war damage (Stock Photo)
Croatia has also held domestic war crimes trials, according to a report published by now-Croatian President Ivo Jospovic, titled “Responsibility for War Crimes before National Courts in Croatia.” Convictions have largely been against Serbians associated with the Yugoslavian military, and very rarely have former members of the Croatian armed forces been disciplined.
The report seemed to echo what Balkan human rights group Documenta stated in 2008 – that the Croatian government had created an adverse political climate for the prosecution of Croatian war crimes.
Amnesty International claims that an open bias against Serbs has led to “a disproportionate number of cases investigated and prosecuted [against Serbs] …while the cases in which the alleged perpetrators are ethnic Croats have received very little attention,” according to its 2010 report, “Behind the Wall of Silence.”
Gotavina and Markac
Both Documenta and Amnesty International claim that Croatia has failed to protect witnesses for trials against alleged Croatian war criminals.
The most recent high-profile case of war crimes committed by Croatians occurred in 2010, when Bothgenerals were acquitted of charges in 2012 by an Appeals Chamber ruling that established that no such criminal enterprise existed.
Ante Gotovina, left, and Mladen Markac.
 Photograph: Bas Czerwinski/AFP/Getty
Croatian Generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac were convicted of crimes against humanity for their alleged participation in a joint criminal enterprise during Operation Storm.
Storm was a military strategy to take back occupied Croatian territory from the Serbs. The Serbs living in the Krajina region, according to the trial prosecution, were expelled by artillery fire based on an unprecedented trial ruling that artillery fired 200 meters from a military target was deemed to have been fired against a civilian population.
The Appeals Chamber reversed this ruling when Gotovina’s defense attorney Gregory Kehoe provided evidence that no such rule had ever been established by artillery theory.
Kehoe also presented evidence that no civilians were killed in the area during the artillery attack, and that Krajina Serbs had fled the area two days prior to the attack.
“It’s probably the first time in the history of war crimes trials where someone was charged with an illegal attack against a civilian population and that there were no civilian deaths or casualties as the result of that artillery,” Kehoe said. “It was tantamount to an acquittal.”
But Documenta has a different account of Operation Storm. According to Jelena Dokic Jovic, who monitors war crime trials in Croatia, 27 war crimes were committed during Operation Storm, resulting in 167 victims.
“The Appeals Chamber did not analyze whether any other elements,” Dokic Jovic said, “… limited results of investigation into crimes after Operation Storm, the crimes committed in Operation Storm apart from the artillery attack and the effort to prevent the Serbs from returning may have led to the conclusion that there was the purpose to expel the Krajina people from Croatia.”
Documenta contends that the Appeals Chamber never denied the crimes committed during Operation Storm, but simply “quashed the very existence of the joint criminal enterprise by non-existence of unlawful nature of artillery attacks rather than concentrating on Gotovina’s and Markac’s contributions to it,” according to Dokic Jovic.
Public response
The acquittals of the two Croatian generals were welcomed by the Croatian public, who view the generals as national heroes. Croatia itself has over 500,000 war veterans who are often referred to as “branitelji,” or “defenders,” and enjoy considerable government benefits.
Critics of the Croatian war crimes trials have argued that war crimes committed during Operation Storm could potentially delegitimize Croatia’s independence. Goran Jungvirth, a reporter for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, dismisses this conclusion, contending that Croatia announced independence by political means in 1991.
“So the legitimacy of the action itself wasn’t at stake at all, but because of the crimes committed during that action caused Serbians to flee,” Jungvirth said in an interview. “Croatia’s independence wasn’t brought into question at all.”
As for Croatia creating an adverse political climate, Jungvirth said, “Any attempts to pressure the trials would be the wrong step,” given that the European Union admitted Croatia as a member country in July 2013, making it very important for the government to cooperate with the Hague Tribunal.
“The Croatian public is still hesitant,” Jungvirth said, “to prosecute their war criminals because those people are perceived as heroes who defended Croatia’s independence against Serbian aggression.” 

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