Putting the issue of war crimes that may have been committed by individual persons aside, it is absolutely unacceptable and unjust that the ICTY Trial Chamber has today convicted six Bosnian Croat political and military leaders of joint criminal enterprise allegedly involving persecution, expulsion and murder of Muslims during Bosnia’s war as part of a plan supported by leaders in neighboring Croatia to establish a Croat state in Bosnia.
The verdict of joint criminal enterprise does not reflect the reality that was. I.e. Croatia was an ally to Croats and Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina when the war commenced in March1992 with Serb barricades in Sarajevo, aggression, ethnically cleansing of Croats, Muslims and other non-Serb population from the territory the world knows today as the political entity of Serbian Republic within Bosnia and Herzegovina. Croatia took hundreds of thousands (at least 400,000) Bosnian refugees (Croats and Muslims) and provided shelter and care for them at the time when the war of Serb aggression raged across Croatia and forced destitution of more than 700,000 Croatian refugees of non-Serb ethnicity.
Whether the Croat-Muslim conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1992 – 1994 constitutes a joint criminal enterprise planned and executed by Croats could truly be justified in reality and justice is now a matter that will surely end up in the ICTY Appeal Chamber.
For, as things stand now this verdict is a farce, just as the one the Trial Chamber had delivered in 2011 against Croatian generals for the Operation Storm that liberated Serb occupied territory of Croatia.
This verdict does nothing but mirror the malicious concoctions and vile cocktails of hatred conjured up in order to blame something or someone for a situation that was a horrible reality that followed when Croatian and Bosnia and Herzegovina dared to seek democracy and secede from Yugoslavia.
To track back to how it was: the Vance Owen Peace Plan (VOPP), named after the international mediators Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen, first took shape in 1992 and its final version was completed in January 1993. It divided Bosnia into provinces with ethnic majorities.
The VOPP placed some Muslim majority areas under the control of the Croats; the Muslims vigorously rejected accepting this. The Muslims resisted a Bosnian Croat army (HVO) order, first made in January 1993 then repeated in April, to submit to its command in areas that were allocated to the Croats. The Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, had by that time declared their “Croatian Community of Herceg-Bosna” over much the same areas that were awarded to them by the VOPP.
Croats were determined to assert their command as, indeed, given that Alija Izetbegovic represented mainly the interests of Bosnian Muslims at the time, and Radovan Karadzic the interests of Bosnian Serbs – Mate Boban was placed in charge of the plights and needs to protect the interests of Bosnian Croats.
While Serbs pursued their lines of creating the Serbian Republic within Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Bosnian Croat determination to pursue command over areas allocated to them through VOPP and the Bosnian Muslim rejection of this was destined to end up in a bitter conflict between Croats and Muslims in these areas.
I have no doubts that the ICTY prosecution (headed by Carla del Ponte) maliciously constructed the idea of a joint criminal enterprise against Bosnian Muslims so that leadership of Croatia could somehow be pinned to such a constructed war crime. Certainly, such an idea would, I believe, have been sparked and fed by lies that led the world to believe that Croatia’s president Franjo Tudjman and Serbia’s president Slobodan Milosevic had met in Karadjordjevo and decided to divide Bosnia and Hercegovina between themselves. Hence, the utter lie that Croatia wanted to expand its borders into Bosnia and Herzegovina were born and fuelled by people such as Stjepan Mesic (of Croatia) who seemed to thrive on spreading hearsay, gossip and rumours about Tudjman as the truth.
Attempts and now an ICTY judgment to blame the Croats for the situation where even the evidence before the ICTY (when it comes to the idea of joint criminal enterprise) provides a swamp where it’s not possible to bring a completely safe conviction of joint criminal enterprise. Who attacked whom first? Who provoked who first? Whose crimes were the worst?
I guess the easiest thing for the ICTY Trial Chamber was to blame the alleged expansionist aspirations of Croatia for everything. Problem solved!? I don’t think so!
Back to ICTY Trial Chamber Wednesday 29 May: Jadranko Prlic, former president of the Croatian Defence Council (HVO), and later of the government of the Croatian Republic of Herceg-Bosna, was convicted to 25 years of imprisonment; Bruno Stojić, former head of the HVO department of Defence received 20 years in prison; Milivoj Petkovic, Chief of the HVO Main Staff and later deputy commander of the HVO forces – 20 years; Valentin Coric, Chief of the Military Police Administration and later on Minister of the Interior – 16 years. Slobodan Praljak, former Assistant Minister of Defence of Croatia and later Commander of the Main Staff of the HVO, received a sentence of 20 years of imprisonment. Berislav Pusic, 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.
A majority of the three-judge panel expressed the opinion that late- President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia was a key member of a plan to carve out a Croat mini-state in Bosnia with the aim of later uniting it with his country to create a greater Croatia, or leaving it as a separate independent state.
Presiding Judge Jean-Claude Antonetti said a majority of the three-judge panel ruled that Croatia had overall control over the Bosnian Croat entity and its armed forces and that Croat troops fought alongside Bosnian Croat forces.
The Chamber concluded by majority, Judge Antonetti dissenting, that the ultimate purpose of the joint criminal enterprise was to create a Croat entity, mostly within the borders of the Croatian Banovina in 1939, to unify the Croatian people in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Later these areas were to be either joined with the Republic of Croatia, or remain in close association with it.
The JCE as such existed approximately from January 1993 to April 1994.
Apart from the six accused, a number of persons joined, participated in and contributed to the JCE, including among others: Franjo Tudjman, the President of the Republic of Croatia; Gojko Susak, the Minister of Defence of the Republic of Croatia; Janko Bobetko, general in the Army of the Republic of Croatia; and Mate Boban, President of the Croatian Community (later Republic) of Herceg-Bosna. All of these men are dead and have passed away years before ICTY trial commenced – they were not there to give evidence or to defend themselves.
Given that the judgment does not seem to mention Cyrus Vance, Lord Owen, Lord Carrington and Jorge Cutileiro, who had all presented their version, on behalf of the international powers of the day – began to set some serious fuel into the already volatile situation – as to how Bosnia and Herzegovina was best divided by command among the three ethnic groups, one cannot but conclude that this judgment of joint criminal enterprise (relying on false conclusions regarding Croatian expansionist plans) is farcical to the hilt. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)