Croatia's Secret Reparations Revealed

Zagreb awarded damages to families of victims killed in detention.

Croatia's Secret Reparations Revealed

Zagreb awarded damages to families of victims killed in detention.

Croatia secretly paid 1.8 million kuna (250,000 euro) to the families of people killed in the notorious Lora prison camp in the early 1990s, confirmed officials this week.



Lora, a Yugoslav-era naval base in the coastal city of Split, was taken over by Croatian forces in 1991, the start of the Croatian war of independence, as the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army, JNA, forces withdrew.



From 1992 to 1997, it functioned as a prison camp for mainly Serbian, but also Bosnian and Montenegrin, civilians and prisoners of war, and became notorious for sadistic torture, starvation and systematic beatings, which often proved to be fatal.



According to local media reports, reparation payments were made last year to the families of Gojko Bulovic and Nenad Knezevic, who both died in the camp.



Asked why the information was not made public, defence ministry spokesman Goran Grosinic refused to comment, and only confirmed that the payments were made at the end of 2008.



Local media have speculated that the state could be negotiating with two more families of civilians tortured or killed in Lora, and could end up paying millions of euro worth of damages if other claims are made.



The trial of eight military police officers for war crimes in Lora caused controversy by raising questions about crimes committed by Croats during the four-year war against the self-proclaimed Croatian Serb Republic of Krajina.



When the trial started in 2002, Croatia had just recently come out of almost a decade of rule by the nationalist Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ. This party frowned upon any questioning of the country’s conduct during the war.



In the first trial, several key witnesses retracted their statements or refused to testify, some reporting that they had been threatened and harassed.



“[These reports raised] serious concerns about the ability of Croatia to fulfil its obligations under international law to bring to justice those responsible for the worst possible crimes,” said Amnesty International at the time.



The eight officers were at first acquitted, raising a storm of protest from Serbia and international rights bodies. Croatia’s supreme court reversed the verdict two years later, citing witness intimidation and a biased judge.



Reportedly as a result of better cooperation between prosecutors and police from Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia, conditions improved markedly in the 2006 retrial, and prosecution witnesses came forward more readily.



All eight accused were found guilty and sentenced to prison terms ranging from six to eight years, with the court citing as a mitigating factor their role in defending Croatia against armed aggression. Four defendants were sentenced in absentia, having gone into hiding before the re-trial, and two remain on the run.



Goran Jungvirth is an IWPR-trained reporter in Zagreb.
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