Yesterday, Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač, accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity (including murder, wanton destruction and plunder of public and private property), were both found guilty of eight out of nine counts of war crimes, and sentenced to 24 years and 18 years respectively. While general Ivan Čermak, likewise accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, was acquitted of all charges against him.
The judgement brought forward yesterday recognises that a “joint criminal enterprise”, with the aim to permanently remove Serbs from the region of the short-lived Republika Srpska Krajina, actually existed. And along with the three above-mentioned accused, a further four members were part of this enterprise: Croatian President Franjo Tuđman, Minister of Defence Gojko Šušak, and generals Janko Bobetko and Zvonimir Červenko. This enterprise “amounted to or involved the commission of the crimes of persecution, deportation and forcible transfer, plunder, and destruction”.
The charges Gotovina and Markač were convicted of were these:
- Count 1: persecution as a crime against humanity;
- Count 2: deportation as a crime against humanity;
- Count 4: plunder of public and private property as a violation of the laws or customs of war;
- Count 5: wanton destruction as a violation of the laws or customs of war;
- Count 6: murder as a crime against humanity;
- Count 7: murder as a violation of the laws or customs of war;
- Count 8: inhumane acts as a crime against humanity; and
- Count 9: cruel treatment as a violation of the laws or customs of war.
The crimes against Serbs, which these three defendants were accused of not preventing or sanctioning, occurred during Operation Storm in August 1995, a military action during which the Croatian army brought under Croatian control land that was previously under Krajina since 1991. By doing so, they brought about near-complete defeat to the Krajina Serb rebels, reducing their break-away state to only a portion of land bordering Serbia. As stated in the Judgement summary here, the case against these three defendants concerned itself with the question of, “whether Serb civilians in the Krajina were the targets of crimes, and whether the Accused should be held criminally liable for these crimes”.
What is most most revealing, in my humbe opinion, is Gotovina's own words at the Brioni meeting at the end of July 1995. Responding to Tuđman, Gotovina was quoted as saying: “A large number of civilians are already evacuating Knin and heading towards Banja Luka and Belgrade. That means that if we continue this pressure, probably for some time to come, there won’t be so many civilians just those who have to stay, who have no possibility of leaving”.
The first sentance quite clearly shows that he was aware that many Serbs had already “evacuated” their homes and “headed towards Banja Luka and Belgrade”. However, the second one shows that it was also very clear to him that if they “continue this pressure” during the operation scheduled to be executed within days of him saying all this, more Serb civilians — and he does use the word “civilians” — would leave, except for those who “have to stay, who have no possibility of leaving”. This quote basically shows that Gotovina was clearly aware that any military action, which they were about to take, could lead to a great deal of the ethnic Serb population within Krajina leaving their homes in response to such “pressure”.
The court's chamber established that, “the motive underlying these legal instruments (i.e. “related to property which came into force after Operation Storm”), as well as their overall effect, was to provide the property left behind by Krajina Serbs in the liberated areas to Croats, and thereby deprive these Serbs of the use of their housing and property”. Therefore, the “the imposition of restrictive and discriminatory measures with regard to housing and property, considered in conjunction with deportation and other crimes against Krajina Serbs, constituted persecution”.
The court's chamber also established that, “the forcible displacement committed by members of the Croatian military forces and Special Police, by the unlawful attacks on towns in the Krajina on 4 and 5 August 1995 and by the commission of other crimes later in August 1995, constituted deportation. Among the many Serbs who left the Krajina during and after Operation Storm, the Chamber concluded that at least 20,000 were deported in this manner in August 1995”.
With regards to the shelling of Benkovac, Gračac, Knin, and Obrovac on 4th and 5th August, it was found that this action “constituted an indiscriminate attack on these towns and an unlawful attack on civilians and civilian objects”. And again about my hometown Gračac in Lika and near-by Donji Lapac: “Special Police members took part in the destruction of a substantial part of Gračac on 5 and 6 August … [T]hey also participated in the destruction and looting of Krajina Serb property in Donji Lapac on 7 and 8 August 1995.”.
------------------------------------------------------------On a personal note: as a Croatian Serb from one of the affected places mentioned above, I'm pleased to hear that the humiliating and degrading ordeal experienced by my relatives and their fellow Serbs while fleeing their homes in August '95 has been legally recognised as part of a “joint criminal enterprise” to have my people removed. This judgement is a legal recognition that the suffering my family and my people endured then was unlawful, and what occurred to their property after their departure was likewise a form of persecution.
Amnesty International welcomes this judgement as “the first step to truth and justice for many victims of crimes committed during ‘Operation Storm’ in Croatia in 1995”, which furthermore shows that “even the most high-level perpetrators of crimes under international law cannot evade justice”.
However, I am also aware of the perceptions of many Croats, who don't want to treat the suffering of my people as equal to the suffering of their people, and who see this as the Hague merely being “fair” on the Serbs at the “expense of the truth”, thereby bringing into question the validity of the court, no less!
A big demonstration has been held on Ban Jelačić square in the capital Zagreb, where they had a huge TV screen for the public to see the verdict. Devastated protestors shouted “Betrayal! Betrayal!”, accused former president Stipe Mesić, former prime minister Ivo Sanader and current president Ivo Josipović of being “war criminals”, and that the war is “still on”! And one former war-time minister admits that his name is on a list of war criminals, but that he'd rather be on that than in government!
(Funny how they branded president Josipović a “war criminal”. He himself is “shocked” by the conviction, and is “convinced that a joint criminal enterprise in the defense of Croatia didn't exist”. He also declares that, “Today, regardless of the conviction, the Homeland war will remain a just and defensive war, in which we retained our freedom and democracy from the aggression and the policies of the criminal régime of Slobodan Milošević”.)
Infuriated by the conviction, one former Croatian soldier from Zadar has smashed a shop window, severely wounding himself in the process. And bizarrely, one former Croatian general attorney has even accused Great Britain for this conviction! Of course, none of this helps when you have a prime minister like Jadranka Kosor, who tells you that “protests cannot change anything”!
There is no doubt that the defense team, which represented the two convicts and the acquitted Čermak, will appeal the conviction against Gotovina and Markač. But surely all these court cases dealing with traumatic war-time experiences, the politically-charged interpretations of recent history based on those experiences upheld by ordinary people who endured them and promoted by omniscient politicians who peddle them, and the all-round bad blood between nations should teach all us Balkan folk, whatever our ethnic or religious identity and however many blows history has dealt us, that statism is ultimately pointless and war is not worth anyone's blood. In my Anarchistic and Pacifistic opinion, states, along with anything that justifies their continued existence, and wars, along with anything that justifies their constant occurence, should belong to the past!
Further ICTY literature: