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International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia: Six Former Croatian Leaders Convicted of Crimes Against Humanity

(June 4, 2013) According to a press release from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), on May 29, 2013, the Tribunal convicted six former senior Croatian officials of “crimes against humanity, violations of the laws or customs of war, and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions committed between 1992 and 1994.” (Press Release, ICTY, Six Senior Herceg-Bosna Officials Convicted (May 29, 2013).)  The ICTY is a United Nations-established court, founded in 1993, that hears cases of war crimes that were committed in the 1990s in the Balkans. (About the ICTY, ICTY website (last visited May 31, 2013).)

In the recent case, the six leaders were found to have participated in a “joint criminal enterprise … 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.” (Press Release, supra.)  Of the six, four were found guilty of 22 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Jadranko Prlić, who had been President of the Croatian Defense Council (HVO) and of the Croatian Republic of Herceg-Bosna, was sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment; Bruno Stojić, who had headed the HVO Department of Defense, received a sentence of 20 years of imprisonment; and Milivoj Petković, Chief of the main staff of the HVO and after that deputy commander of the HVO forces, also received a sentence of 20 years. Vlanetin Ćorić, who was the chief of the Military Police Administration and then Minister of the Interior and who was also convicted of command responsibility for crimes outside of those included in the “joint criminal enterprise,” was sentenced to 16 years of imprisonment. Those additional crimes were carried out in October 1992 in the town of Prozor. (Id.)

One of the other two defendants, Slobodan Praljak, had been the Assistant Minister of Defense of Croatia and then commander of the HVO main staff; he was acquitted on two counts by a majority of the judges, but was sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment for 20 remaining counts. Berislav Pusić was unanimously acquitted of four charges but convicted of 18 and sentenced to ten years of imprisonment.  He had been the head of the HVO commission charged with prisoner exchanges and of the commission that managed detention facilities. (Id.)

The joint criminal enterprise activities, which occurred from January 1993 to April 1994, included recruiting personnel and coordinating the operations that were judged by the ICTY to be the crimes against humanity in eight municipalities: Čapljina, Gornji Vakuf, Jablanica, Ljubuški, Mostar, Prozor, Stolac, and Vareš. In addition to the six defendants, the ICTY named a number of other individuals as complicit in the crimes, including Franjo Tudjman, the President of the Republic of Croatia. (Id.; Endia Vereen, ICTY Convicts 6 Bosnian Croat Leaders of Crimes Against Humanity, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (May 29, 2013).)

The ICTY stated that the murders and cases of torture of the Muslims in the region “were not the random acts of a few unruly soldiers, but part of a plan to permanently remove Muslims from territory claimed by Bosnian Croats.” (Press Release, supra.)

The convictions in this case, which began in 2006, are the most recent ones obtained by the ICTY in its 20 years of operation. The ICTY has indicted 161 people for various violations of humanitarian law committed during the Yugoslavian conflict in the years 1991 to 2001. During the civil war in Bosnia alone, 100,000 people were killed and 2.2 million were left homeless. (Vereen, supra.)