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Gotovina Defence Wants Serb Wartime Documents

Defence says some recently released material appears to support arguments they made during his original trial.
By Rachel Irwin
  • Ante Gotovina in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)
    Ante Gotovina in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)

Defence lawyers for Croatian General Ante Gotovina have asked judges to order Serbia to provide documents they say could be important for his appeal at the Hague tribunal.

Gotovina was convicted on April 15 of ordering unlawful and indiscriminate attacks on Serb civilians during the Operation Storm offensive, which was launched by Croatian forces on August 4, 1995 to retake the Serb-controlled Krajina region of the country.

Gotovina was also found to be responsible for the deportation of at least 20,000 Serb civilians from the Krajina, as well as for the murder, persecution and cruel treatment of Serb civilians. In addition, he was convicted on counts of plunder and wanton destruction.

The only count that he was acquitted of – out of a total of 9 - was forcible transfer. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison with credit for time served. His lawyers filed a notice of appeal last month.

This week’s request pertains to the recent public disclosure of some of the so-called “SDC minutes”—transcripts from meetings of Serbia’s wartime Supreme Defence Council. The SDC meetings – which were attended by high-ranking members of the leadership - are thought to be key to gaining a full and accurate picture of Serbia’s involvement in the wars of the Nineties.

Gotovina’s defence contends that some of the recently released material appears to support arguments they made during the trial – arguments which the judges ultimately rejected.

For example, they cite an article published in May by the SENSE news agency, which in turn quotes from an SDC meeting on August 14 1995, just days after Operation Storm.

The article states that ex-Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic opposed providing help to the Serbian Krajina, RSK, in Croatia because it would be “idiotic” to do so after the Serbs had decided to leave, “causing an exodus of people”.

“This was supposed to be the reason for Yugoslavia to rush to that area and defend those territories which they left running away as fast as they could?!” Milosevic said, according to SENSE.

The Gotovina defence says this is relevant to their appeal because Gotovina was convicted of deportation “based on a finding that an artillery attack was the ‘primary and direct cause’ of the departure of tens of thousands of Serbs from Knin, Benkovac and Obrovac”.

The defence, however, has repeatedly contended that Serb civilians left because of evacuation orders issued by the RSK on August 4, 1995. Therefore, the SDC excerpt “sheds new light on what the Serbian leadership concluded was the cause of the departure of Serb civilians”.

The defence states that it obtained additional SDC transcripts from the tribunal registry, including some from a meeting held on August 29, 1995. These state that all officers in the 40th personnel centre of the Yugoslav army, VJ, who had been sent to Croatia “shall write statements on the events … during the Croatian aggression against the Republic of Serbian Krajina”.

The 40th personnel centre was allegedly used to covertly provide VJ officers to the Serb armies in Bosnia and Croatia.

At the end of May, the Gotovina defence requested these reports, via the Serbian ambassador to The Netherlands.

Serbia did not respond to these requests, which is why the defence is now asking for a court order.

“It is self-evident that such reports on the causes of the departure of the civilians are both relevant …. and necessary for a fair determination of General Gotovina’s appeal,” his defence states.

Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.