Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
In its closing remarks this week, the prosecution in the Hague tribunal trial of former Bosnian Croat leaders spoke of their alleged role in a joint criminal enterprise whose aim was to establish a “Greater Croatia”.
Prosecutor Kenneth Scott said that the joint criminal enterprise was led by the then Croatian president, Franjo Tudjman, and the nationalist fraction of the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, led by Gojko Susak and Janko Bobetko who were joined by the six accused: Jadranko Prlic, Bruno Stojic, Slobodan Praljak, Milivoj Petkovic, Valentin Coric and Berislav Pusic. According to the prosecutor, all of them were "architects" of that project.
The accused are charged with grave breaches of the Geneva conventions, war crimes and crimes against humanity, including persecution on political or religious grounds, murder, rape, deportation, imprisonment and other inhumane acts.
The six are accused of responsibility for the expulsion, rape, torture and murder of Bosnian Muslims and other non-Croats, committed between late 1991 and early 1994 as part of an alleged plan to ethnically cleanse parts of Bosnia in order to later join them to a Greater Croatia.
According to the indictment, the ethnic Bosnian Croat authorities of the self-declared state of Herceg-Bosna created, instigated and supported "a charged anti-Muslim atmosphere, promoted ethnic division and fostered religious mistrust".
Scott said that the joint criminal enterprise was organised by the Croatian state leadership whose intention it was to win territories and establish a homogenous ethnically Croat territory.
The prosecutor said that it was because of Tudjman's obsession with the Banovina of Croatia (a province of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia between 1939 and 1943, which included much of present-day Croatia along with portions of Bosnia and Serbia) that Bosnia had to be divided.
Scott said that it was this idea which was accepted by a small military and political elite of the Bosnian Croats led by Mate Boban. The prosecutor added that the Croatian Defence Council, HVO, had accepted, supported and implemented the plans of the then Croatian president aimed at the territorial division of Bosnia.
The prosecutor said at the beginning of his closing statement that "the plan was to ultimately join the areas which were included in Herceg-Bosna into Croatia".
"Herceg-Bosna officials were not elected, there had been no referendum to choose them. All the commands came directly from above, from President Tudjman himself," Scott pointed out.
Tudjman died in 1999. It has been confirmed on various occasions by Hague tribunal officials that, had he lived longer, he would have been indicted.
"It was a top-down project, devised, planned, prepared, managed and implemented from the top down. These people here are parts of the team who designed, shaped, built and implemented the project," the prosecutor said.
"That's how the war with Muslims was started, a war for territories," he went on, pointing out that "it wasn't just about winning territories, it was also about ensuring a demographic majority".
In his final words, Scott spoke of some of the crimes committed by the HVO in Bosnia during 1993.
According to the prosecutor, "these horrible events were the result of a joint criminal enterprise aimed at the political and military destruction of Muslim and other non-Croat populations from parts of the Bosnian territory which were supposed to become part of a Greater Croatia".
"The Croats," according to him, "wanted their own sovereign area, a 'real-estate with borders', which was supposed to have a Croatian demographic majority at the expense of other nations."
He also pointed out that "all decrees on detention and expulsion of non-Croats and of their forced transfer outside of Herceg-Bosna were made [from] the top".
Scott then quoted several alleged remarks by Prlic, Praljak and Petkovic to prove that their aim was "to ultimately join the conquered and cleaned ethnic territory to Croatia".
"Prlic had confirmed that the military units of the HVO had committed crimes, so it has become pretty clear that the military units of the HVO and the members of these units had to be held responsible, as have the authorities of Herceg-Bosna which were in charge of them," the prosecutor said.
The prosecutor then turned his attention to the final element of the joint criminal enterprise.
"An ever important part of the realisation of the project was Croatianness," said the prosecutor, pointing out that Herceg-Bosna was itself named “a Croat community”, or “a Croat Republic”; the army was named the “Croatian Defence Council", and the currency was Croatian. "Everything was supposed to seem and feel Croat," the prosecutor said.
Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.
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