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Courtside: General Bobetko Case

Zagreb sets precedent by appealing against indictment of Croatian general.

Croatia has become the first nation to contest a Hague war crimes indictment, appealing against the arrest warrant issued for its former army commander Janko Bobetko.

Zagreb’s request, now before an appeals chamber, challenges the warrant issued against Bobetko, charged with crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war.

It is the first time an appeal has come from a non-party in proceedings. Croatia has two principal objections.

First, Zagreb says the operation where war crimes are alleged, the Medak Pocket offensive in 1993, was not, as the prosecution contend, an illegal action with a criminal purpose.

Second, it says norms of international law were not adhered to because the arrest warrant for Bobetko was issued soon after charges were laid, without giving the defendant time to respond or surrender voluntarily.

Zagreb also says it is wrong to issue arrest warrants for all indictments, and wants the judges to consider other actions, such as allowing voluntary surrender.

Croatia says it is afraid the wording of the indictment will prejudice a fair trial.

It has said it would be happy to provide further elaboration to the appeal chamber.

Regarding the right to launch the appeal, Zagreb argues that appeals should be allowed at all levels of the legal process – including the process of issuing indictments – and not just for trials.

The prosecution say even if the court accepts the right of Croatia to appeal, this should be rejected because it should be up to judges and prosecutors, not outside parties, to decide who gets indicted.

A five-strong appeals chamber will consider Croatia’s request, including tribunal president, Judge Jorda. No date has been set for a decision.

Vjera Bogati is an IWPR special correspondent in The Hague and a journalist with SENSE News Agency.

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