ANALYSIS: Crimes in the 'Homeland War'

For the first time, the Hague tribunal openly fingers Croatian citizens, including the former president, of war crimes in Croatia.

ANALYSIS: Crimes in the 'Homeland War'

For the first time, the Hague tribunal openly fingers Croatian citizens, including the former president, of war crimes in Croatia.

Saturday, 28 July, 2001

In the last week of July, seven Croatians accused of crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina - five in Ahmici and two in Mostar - appeared before the court. The seal was removed from the indictments against two Croatian generals charged with crimes in Croatia. Notably, in three instances, Franjo Tudjman, the late Croatian president, is named as a "co-offender".


One of two Croatian army officers indicted for war crimes also appeared before the tribunal. General Rahim Ademi, who gave himself up, entered a plea of not guilty on counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war.


His appearance follows the mid-June decision by the Zagreb government to cooperate with the tribunal over the arrest of Ademi and another Croatian general, Ante Gotovina.


Ademi, a 47-year-old Albanian born in Kosovo, was charged, in his former capacity as acting commander of the Gospic military district, with crimes committed by his soldiers between September 9-17, 1993, in the Medak pocket, south of Gospic, in the self-proclaimed republic of Srpska Krajina.


The Croat attack began at dawn on September 9, 1993. After two days, their forces had established control over an area believed to have been home to some 400 Serbs.


An agreement was then signed with international representatives on September 15 under which Croatian forces were supposed to leave the UNPROFOR-controlled area. According to the indictment, it was after the signing of the agreement, and prior to the withdrawal of Croat forces, that most of the atrocities were carried out.


The indictment alleges that at least 38 Serb civilians, many of them women and elderly people, were unlawfully killed and others seriously injured. Twenty of the victims are named and listed variously as being shot, burned alive, slaughtered, disfigured and castrated.


Two soldiers listed as captured and wounded were also killed. In addition, 164 homes and a similar number of farms and outbuildings were destroyed. Further pollution of wells, destruction of property and livestock made the area totally uninhabitable, according to the indictment.


Ademi, who graduated from the military academy in Belgrade, joined the Croatian army in the early Nineties. He is being defended by a Croatian Serb, Ceda Prodanovic.


The second general, Ante Gotovina, went into hiding and an arrest warrant has been issued in Croatia. His whereabouts are unknown. Gotovina has been indicted for crimes committed during and after 'Operation Storm' - the Croat military offensive to reclaim Serb-held parts of Croatia.


Former Croatian president Franjo Tudjman's name appears three times as a co-offender in the indictment, which alleges that "Gotovina, acting individually and/or in concert with others, including Tudjman, planned, instigated, ordered, committed or otherwise aided and abetted in planning, preparation or execution of the crimes committed in the course of, and after, the 'Oluja' (Storm) offensive".


The indictment bears up a statement given last year to Tribunal Update by deputy prosecutor Graham Blewitt who said that the former president's responsibility would be "reflected in some future indictments for Operation Storm. (see Tribunal Update Nos. 163 and 164, February 7-12, 2000, and February 14-19, 2000, respectively)


Gotovina, who disappeared at the beginning of July, is a former French legionnaire, who returned to Croatia on the eve of the war with Serbia in 1991.He became commander of the Split military district, which included the southern part of the Srpska Krajina. The units under his command during Operation Storm were active in the United Nations Protected Area Sector South in August 1995.


According to the indictment against him, Gotovina, as commander of Croat forces in Sector South, stands accused of persecuting Krajina Serbs on political, racial and religious grounds, the killing of at least 150 civilians and the disappearance of hundreds of others.


Charges are also levelled against him for the cumulative effect of the killings, burning and destruction which "led to the large scale displacement of an estimated 150,000 - 200,000 Krajina Serbs to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia".


Finally, Gotovina is accused of other inhuman acts including inhumane treatment, degradation by beating and assault.


Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte issued a statement after Gotovina's indictment was released, in which she said she attempted to answer objections to indictments against Croatian leaders fighting 'The Homeland War'. Opponents of Croatian cooperation with The Hague have said that the tribunal is putting the whole country on trial for war crimes,


Del Ponte said that neither she nor the tribunal took a position on "whether or not a state has the legal right to use force in particular circumstances to accomplish its objectives", and that they were there to look into individual allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity.


"It is important to remember that, even within a lawful armed conflict, an individual may nevertheless commit serious violations of international humanitarian law," she said.


There could well be further prosecutions for crimes committed during Operation Storm. In a confidential document belonging to Office of the Prosecutor, leaked to The New York Times in March 1999, Generals Mirko Norac and Ivan Cermak, besides Gotovina, were both mentioned as potential indictees.


However, the prosecutor's office said the leaked document was out of date and "merely represents expressions of opinion, arguments and hypotheses from various staff members ... and not in any way the concluded decisions of the prosecutor". (See Tribunal Update 118, March 22-27, 1999)


It should be noted, however, that some other documents leaked at the same time to the New York Times have in the meantime proven to be true. The documents referred to the prosecutor's decision to create a special team to investigate Slobodan Milosevic and his responsibility for the Balkan war crimes. It also said "the investigators have also recently begun looking whether Franjo Tudjman, should be held responsible under the international law for his role in Operation Storm".


Mirko Klarin is IWPR senior editor for the war crimes tribunal and editor-in-chief of SENSE News Agency.


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