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

Courtside: General Blaskic Case

By Vjera Bogati in The Hague (TU No. 290, 18-22 November, 2002)
By IWPR

Blaskic was found guilty in 2000 and handed the then-record sentence of 45 years for war crimes.


His crimes included the destruction of the Muslim village of Ahmici, where more than 100 Muslim men, women and children were slaughtered - some burned alive.


But Blaskic's laywer, Russell Hayman, said that a mass of new documents released by Croatia proved the original defence case - which was that the general had no control over the units involved.


He said the evidence "undermined the logic of the arguments" for the original conviction.


The case concerns one of the key weapons in the prosecution armoury - the concept of command responsibility. This says that someone can be guilty of the war crimes of their own troops, unless they can prove either ignorance of the crimes, or that they took appropriate measures to deal with such.


Blaskic's defence at the time was that the atrocities were carried out by Bosnian Croat units working independently from his own and obeying a "parallel chain of command" that ran back to Zagreb.


Hayman now claims that these new documents prove this, arguing that the judges would not have made their decision if it had seen them. They became available after Croat president Stipe Mesic came to power in 2000.


A total of 47 documents and two statements of witnesses were accepted by the appeals chamber as new evidence. They include intelligence reports from both Croatia and the self-declared Bosnian Croat statelet, Herceg-Bosna, regarding the Ahmici crime.


Hayman also argued that the decision on Blaskic would have been different if the judges had heard the evidence of the later trial of Kordic, who was jailed for 25 years for the Ahmici crime.


At that trial prosecution, witnesses said Blaskic did not have control over two units involved in the massacre - the military police and a special unit called the Knights.


But prosecutor Norman Farell said the new evidence changed nothing, and he could not see "the mistake" that could justify a fresh trial. He rejected defence claims, and also the suggestion by the appeals chamber that new evidence made the 45-year sentence unfair.


Farrel said the new documents were "contradictory and unsubstantiated". He said Blaskic's authority over the Ahmici combat units was confirmed by the fact that he often issued orders to all Bosnian Croat units in central Bosnia. And he said Blaskic received reports on the action in Ahmici.


Both defence and prosecution agreed that the trial should not be repeated in its entirety, saying much of the evidence, such as witness testimony, could remain because it is not disputed.


The defence wants to repeat witness statements dealing with Blaskic's command authority, and Hayman believes a re-trial could last from three to six months.


Vjera Bogati is an IWPR correspondent in The Hague and a journalist with SENSE news agency.