Six Senior Herceg-Bosna Officials Convicted
Six former high-ranking officials from the wartime Croat entity of Herceg-Bosna were today convicted by Trial Chamber III of the Tribunal for crimes against humanity, violations of the laws or customs of war, and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions committed between 1992 and 1994.
All six were found guilty, Judge Antonetti dissenting as to the mode of liability, for their participation in a joint criminal enterprise (JCE) with the objective of removing the Muslim population from the territories on which the Bosnian Croat leadership, acting in concert with the leadership of Croatia, wanted to establish Croat domination.
Four of the accused were found guilty of 22 counts of the indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity in relation to which the Chamber entered a conviction. Jadranko Prlić, former president of the Croatian Defence Council (HVO), and later of the government of the Croatian Republic of Herceg-Bosna, was sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment; Bruno Stojić, former head of the HVO department of defence to 20 years’; Milivoj Petković, chief of the HVO Main Staff and later deputy commander of the HVO forces to 20 years’; and Valentin Ćorić, chief of the Military Police Administration and later on Minister of the Interior to 16 years’. Ćorić was also found guilty of command responsibility for crimes committed in Prozor municipality in October 1992. The Chamber found that the crimes committed in this municipality during that period of time were not part of the joint criminal plan and considered the responsibility of the accused under the mode of liability of command responsibility.
Two of the accused were acquitted of some of the charges. Slobodan Praljak, former Assistant Minister of Defence of Croatia and later commander of the Main Staff of the HVO was acquitted by majority, Judge Antonetti dissenting, of two counts. Convicted of 20 counts, he received a sentence of 20 years of imprisonment. Berislav Pušić, former president of the HVO commission in charge of the exchange of prisoners and other persons and head of the HVO Commission in charge of detention facilities, was unanimously acquitted of four counts. Convicted of 18 counts, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Some of the guilty verdicts listed above were made unanimously, and some by majority, as detailed in the judgement summary. The Chamber did not enter convictions relating to counts 14, 17 and 20 of the indictment on the basis of the principles relating to cumulative convictions, and did not consider count 26, relating to cruel treatment (Mostar siege), for reasons which are fully explained in the judgement.
The Chamber concluded, by majority, Judge Antonetti dissenting, that the ultimate purpose of the JCE was to create a Croat entity, mostly within the borders of the Croatian Banovina as it existed in 1939, to enable a unification of the Croatian people. Later these areas were to be either joined with the Republic of Croatia, or remain in close association with it.
The JCE existed approximately from January 1993 to April 1994. Its criminal objective was to be reached through the commission of crimes by HVO forces in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the non-Croat population. The Chamber concluded that “[i]n the majority of cases, the crimes committed were not the random acts of a few unruly soldiers. On the contrary, these crimes were the result of a plan drawn up by members of the JCE whose goal was to permanently remove the Muslim population from Herceg-Bosna.”
Apart from the six accused, a number of persons joined, participated in and contributed to the JCE, including among others: Franjo Tuđman, the President of the Republic of Croatia; Gojko Šušak, the Minister of Defence of the Republic of Croatia; Janko Bobetko, a general in the Army of the Republic of Croatia; and Mate Boban, President of the Croatian Community (later Republic) of Herceg-Bosna.
Members of the JCE secured personnel and coordinated operations on the ground to carry out the crimes. The Chamber outlined factual findings relating to crime sites in eight municipalities, as charged in the indictment: Mostar, Prozor, Gornji Vakuf, Jablanica, Ljubuški, Stolac, Čapljina and Vareš.
In relation to Mostar, the Chamber found that during the evictions of Bosnian Muslims from West Mostar (which was claimed by the Croats) to East Mostar, HVO soldiers exercised “extreme violence”. “The Muslims were awakened in the middle of the night or early in the morning, beaten and forced out of their homes, often in their pyjamas. Many women, including one 16-year-old girl, were raped by HVO soldiers”. Between June 1993 and April 1994, the HVO laid siege to East Mostar. Muslim population living there was subject to “intensive and constant” shelling which left many civilians dead or wounded.
The Chamber established that the HVO destroyed the Old Bridge in Mostar on 8 November 1993. The majority, Judge Antonetti dissenting, concluded that “although the Bridge was used by the ABiH and thus constituted a legitimate military target for the HVO, its destruction caused disproportionate damage to the Muslim civilian population of Mostar.”
A considerable body of evidence pertained to HVO detention facilities, including among others Heliodrom, Gabela, Dretelj, Vojno and Ljubuški prison. On the basis of abundant witness testimony from former detainees, the Chamber determined that the conditions of detention at such centres were “particularly difficult”. Many of the imprisoned and detained Muslims were kept in horrible conditions and deprived of basic human necessities, such as adequate food, water and medical care. Many suffered inhumane treatment and physical and psychological abuse, including beatings and sexual assaults. Some were used as forced labourers on the front lines, which resulted in the death or injury of a number of them.
The Prilć et al. trial was one of the Tribunal’s largest and most intricate. Trial proceedings began on 26 April 2006. The Prosecution completed its case on 24 January 2008 after calling 145 witnesses. The Defence case commenced on 5 May 2008 and closed on 17 May 2010 after the testimony of 61 witnesses. The closing arguments were heard between 7 February and 2 March 2011. The total number of trial days amounted to 465. The judgement in this complex case comprises over 2,600 pages, including separate and partially dissenting opinions by Judges Antonetti and Trechsel.
Since its establishment the Tribunal has indicted 161 persons for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 2001. Proceedings against 136 individuals have been concluded.