Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

The Blaskic Trial

Tribunal Update 35: Last Week in The Hague (June 30 - July 5, 1997)

The prosecutor attempted to prove that the HZH-B and its armed force, the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) had established a para-state in the part of Bosnia which they considered to be "Croatian" and that they had full control over all aspects of people's lives in that entity, at least in the normative sense. This included, of course, defence, in which General Blaskic, as commander of the Central Bosnia operational zone in which the crimes described in the indictment occurred, played an important role.

If the prosecutor succeeded in proving this, and the observer's impression is that he did, it was largely due to his expert witness, Dr Zoran Pajic, former professor of international law at the University of Sarajevo, now senior research fellow with the British Institute of Human Rights at King's College, London.

At the prosecutor's request, Dr Pajic had prepared a comprehensive analysis of the legislative acts of HZH-B which he presented last week, explained, and finally, defended in cross-examination by Blaskic's defence. Dr Pajic is the first expert from the former Yugoslavia to appear before the Tribunal as an expert witness. Until now, such roles have been given only to western experts specialising in specific aspects of the recent and less recent history of the former Yugoslavia.

On the basis of an analysis of four volumes of the Official Gazette which lists all the laws made in HZH-B from 1992 to 1994, Dr Pajic made the following conclusions:

* The Croatian Community of Herceg-Bosna was formed as a "community of municipalities" and gradually, by its normative activities, acquired the attributes of statehood. From the very beginning, all the documents of the HZH-B insist on territorial integrity and its defence as one of the main attributes of statehood. All the municipalities of HZH-B are municipalities within the territory of the sovereign Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina is systematically ignored as a state; its constitutional system is ignored and its legislation violated. What is more, the HZH-B took over part of the frontier of the republic and independently regulated the border regime, which in formal and legal terms belongs to the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. * In all the documents analysed, the omnipresent role of the HVO runs like a thread through all state affairs. The HVO was set up as the supreme body for defence, but already in the first document it acquired a decisive role in the HZH-B presidency, which was defined as the supreme legislative body of the Croatian Community. Dr Pajic also noted the unity of functions held by one individual, that is, the President of the HZH-B, who was at the same time the president of the HVO. The HVO covers the departments of defence, interior, economy, finance, social affairs, justice and administration through appropriate departments headed by appointed chiefs. Gradually, the HVO encompassed control over the functioning of the judiciary system. In brief, the HVO concentrated within its control the legislative, administrative, executive and judiciary powers, while preserving all the prerogatives of a supreme defence body, based on a principle of subordination at national level. * The defence of the HZH-B was organised on the basis of the participation of all citizens. A system was elaborated whereby each citizen knows what his obligations are with respect to defence. The HVO is the absolute supervisor and holder of all acquired material goods. All production for military needs came under HVO control. The armed forces of the HZH-B were gradually established as a structure with legal foundations, with emphasis on the unity of command and subordination and disciplinary responsibility, which is accompanied by a system of military courts. * The HZH-B was established as a national entity aspiring to round off a certain territory that would correspond to the interests of the Croatian people in this area. In addition to all the institutions of the HZH-B, which later called itself the Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosna, the adjective "Croatian" is emphasised. However, at the time it was formed, in 26 out of 30 municipalities enumerated in the first decision on its establishment, there were inhabitants belonging to other ethnic groups, Bosniaks and/or Serbs. According to the 1991 census, their share in the population varied from 7 to 82 per cent, depending on the municipality. However, in spite of this, all the regulations in their wording, as well as in the rhetoric used, implicitly exclude the non-Croat population from the political life of the Croatian Community. The institutions are constituted in such a way that only representatives of the Croatian people may participate in the political process. And, in spite of all-inclusive legislation, not a single regulation was adopted that would guarantee the rights of religious, ethnic and linguistic minorities.

In their cross-examination, Blaskic's defence, Anto Nobilo from Zagren and Russell [CK SP] Hayman from Los Angeles, tried to contest Dr Pajic's analysis. They insisted, first of all, on the temporary character of the laws passed (during a war or in imminent danger of war); then on the preparations for defence from JNA aggression in a situation where, they said, the Bosnian government did nothing to defend the land and the people; and on the existence of two HVO's - civilian and military - in which the latter (to which the accused, Blaskic, belonged) did not control the former but was subordinate to it.

However, judging by the supplementary questions the judges put to Dr Pajic at the end of his testimony, the defence did not succeed in bringing into question the analysis of the prosecution's expert witness. The judges were trying to check the correctness of their conclusion that the HZH-B was a racist and separatist creation whose legal structure, as indicated by the analysis of its legislation, was harmonised with the legal order of the Republic of Croatia.