Croatian Indictments Expected

There are signs that alleged Croatian war criminals may soon be brought to justice.

Croatian Indictments Expected

There are signs that alleged Croatian war criminals may soon be brought to justice.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

Widespread speculation that the Hague Tribunal is to indict three Croatian


Army generals for alleged war crimes committed during the "Oluja" military action


of 1995 has been fuelled by the country's leadership.


Reports in the Croatian press predict that the three generals - Ivan


Cermak, Anto Gotovina and Mirko Novic - will be indicted in August, the fifth


anniversary of the army's reconquest of occupied Croatian territory, during which 200,000 Serbs were forced to flee.


President Stipe Mesic and Prime Minister Ivica Racan are


scheduled to return from a visit to Washington as guests of the US


President Bill Clinton at the end of the first week of August. It is hoped that such a strong expression of approval and support from the White House will bolster the new Croatian authorities against expected protests by Croat extremists opposed to the possible extradition of


the three generals.


The late President, FranjoTudjman, insisted that Croatian soldiers were incapable


of committing war crimes, which is why no one has so far been tried - even those Croats currently at the Hague were all indicted for offences committed in Bosnia. President of the Supreme Court, Milan Vukovic, argued at the time of "Oluja" action that Croats were engaged in a defensive war and therefore unable to commit crimes.


However, the political landscape in Croatia has now changed and speculation


that the Hague Tribunal has completed the indictments, and is waiting for the right moment to release them, was fuelled when Mesic and Minister of Justice, Stjepan Ivanisevic, were asked to comment on the issue.


"If the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICTY had brought indictments


against these three generals, then I am sure chief prosecutor Carla del


Ponte would have informed us directly," said Ivanisevic. "I have not yet


been informed which I think indicates that the charges have not yet been


raised."


Ivanisevic's apparent confidence that indictments have not been


raised "yet", was matched by Mesic remarks that "only when


certain individuals have stood trial, when they have faced their


international justice and their own consciences, will collective


accusations stop and collective guilt end."


Mesic's comments about the need of individual trials to decollectivise


guilt echo the views of Zarko Puhovski, a member of the executive board of


the Croatian Helsinki Committee, CHC, which has investigated and reported


on war crimes in Croatia. "There certainly were war crimes, both during


Oluja and afterwards," he said. "Until individual guilt is established for


each of those murders, the crimes will continue to be 'Croat' crimes."


The latest CHC report lists 267 people as having been killed or disappeared in


Lika during the "Oluja" action, bringing the current total of people killed and


disappeared in the region to 677. In contrast to HDZ days, when reports


of possible war crimes were attacked as treacherous and suppressed, the CHC


has received widespread coverage and speculation about the possible


indictments is an ongoing story in the Croatian press.


The new authorities are likely to cooperate with any extradition requests


from the ICTY, but they will need to proceed cautiously. When Bosnian


Croat Tihomir Blaskic was found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to 40


years in prison last March, the Croatian right organised big demonstrations


in front of the USA embassy which shook the newly-established coalition.


With a failing economy and unemployment at over 20 per cent - the legacy of ten years of HDZ rule - the threat of social unrest is ever present. In such an atmosphere, it is feared that


the extreme right - which includes a lot of disgruntled HDZ members - could


use the indictment of the three generals to spark mass protests and even


attempt to overthrow the government.


Drago Hedl is a regular IWPR correspondent


Support our journalists