The Office of the Prosecutor is satisfied with the Appeals Chamber’s Judgment in the case Prosecutor v. Jadranko Prlić et al., which in the most important respects confirmed the convictions entered at trial against Jadranko Prlić, Bruno Stojić, Slobodan Praljak, Milivoj Petković, Valentin Ćorić and Berislav Pušić.
The Appeals Chamber confirmed that the six accused, together with then-senior leaders of the Republic of Croatia, were key participants in a joint criminal enterprise to ethnically cleanse Bosnian Muslims through the commission of crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and other war crimes.
They shared a common purpose to seize control over claimed territory in Bosnia and Herzegovina by forcibly displacing tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims to facilitate a unification of Croatian people in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Appeals Chamber confirmed that this criminal plan was implemented through the ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims from their homes and communities across several municipalities, including Gornji Vakuf, Jablanica, Prozor, Mostar, Ljubuški, Stolac and Čapljina between mid-January 1993 and April 1994. In municipality after municipality, Bosnian Croat Defence Council (HVO) forces launched military operations involving widespread and systematic attacks against civilian populations. These attacks led to mass arrests and imprisonment of thousands of Muslim civilians; separation of the men from the women, children and elderly; detention in inhumane conditions in a unified network of HVO detention centres; killings; and the commission of many more crimes.
The Appeals Chamber further confirmed that the HVO, beginning in June 1993, laid siege to East Mostar for nearly ten months during which it undertook a campaign of crimes against the civilian population. The aim was to spread terror amongst the Bosnian Muslim population of East Mostar. The civilian population, which had more than doubled to some 55,000 as a result of the ethnic cleansing of Muslims from West Mostar and other locations, was subjected to constant sniping and shelling and forced to live under extremely harsh conditions. The already dire humanitarian situation was further aggravated by the HVO’s deliberate obstruction of humanitarian aid delivery.
As has been repeatedly established in the Tribunal’s cases, today’s judgment affirmed that there was an international armed conflict because Croatia exercised overall control over the HVO, which committed widespread crimes as proven in this case. Croatia released Croatian Army officers to command HVO forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, provided logistical support, and sent Croatian Army forces into Bosnia and Herzegovina to directly participate in the conflict. The Appeals Chamber upheld the Trial Chamber’s findings that key members of Croatia’s then-leadership, including President Franjo Tuđman, Defence Minister Gojko Šušak, and Janko Bobetko, a senior General in the Croatian Army, shared the criminal purpose to ethnically cleanse Bosnian Muslims and contributed to realizing that goal.
Responsible officials should promote acceptance of these facts as the foundation for reconciliation. The suffering of the victims and survivors must be recognized and acknowledged.
While these six accused have been held accountable for this campaign of ethnic cleansing, more senior- and mid-level officials and commanders must still be brought to justice for these crimes. Many are within reach of Croatian judicial authorities.
The Office of the Prosecutor expresses its full support to the State Attorney’s Office of Croatia, and expects it will urgently process these cases. The Office also calls upon Croatian authorities to allow the justice process to move forward independently and impartially, including by facilitating regional judicial cooperation.