Well, July was a disquieting month for justice at the UN Security Council. Serbia’s lobby with Russia had resulted in Russia’s veto on the British instigated motion to call the 1995 Srebrenica massacres genocide! And so, the verdicts delivered by the UN Security Council appointed International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) officially became as valuable and as respected as a veto of one member state of the Security Council is worth! Denials can take one far these days, it seems!
In line with the appalling Serb denials of genocide and the horrendous crimes they committed in the aggression against Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina during 1990’s it was to be expected that Croatian Serbs and their wicked supporters were going to stage some outrageous display of denials ahead of the 20th Anniversary of Operation Storm that liberated Croatia from Serb occupation and aggression in August of 1995; just as they did with the 20th commemoration of Srebrenica genocide in July.
And so, it came – the ugly beast of denials, political corruption, lies and attempts to pervert the truth in the form of launching an interactive narrative named “Storm in the Hague” (webpage)! Those responsible for this launch on Friday 31 July 2015 in Zagreb, Croatia, are the Documenta association in Croatia (an organisation supposedly dealing with confronting the truth of history but in reality twists that history to promote bias and lies against Croatia), the Serbian National Council (led by Milorad Pupovac) and, as I and multitudes see it, the ultimately biased and politically corrupt SENSE Agency – Centre for transitional justice.
Many in Croatia and abroad consider (rightfully) that the interactive narrative “Storm in the Hague” is an attempt to belittle and nullify the ICTY Appeal Chamber verdict of 16 November 2012 in the case of Croatian Generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, which had found that as far as the Croatian war efforts were concerned there was no Joint Criminal Enterprise, no excessive artillery shelling and no ethnic cleansing of Serbs.
I would think that the saddest thing about this twisting of the final verdict in the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to suit the Serb denials of crimes and their aggression is that the Croatian taxpayers fund to a large extent the work of these organisations that twist the truth
Mr Luka Misetic, Ante Gotovina’s US based defense lawyer at the ICTY trial promptly addressed on his blog and in the Croatian media concerning and disquieting aspects of this launch of the interactive narrative “Storm in the Hague”. I have translated into the English language Mr Misetic’s address and here it is:
“Today (31st July), in Croatia, there was a SENSE Agency and Serbian National Council launch of the presentation “Storm in the Hague”. As it was to be expected the presentation purposefully covers up that which the Hague Tribunal found in its judgments in the case of Gotovina (Ante Gotovina, Croatian General).
HOW DID THE HAGUE TRIBUNAL ANSWER TO ALL THESE QUESTIONS?
1. Were Serbs deported from Croatia?
2. Did the Croatian authorities purposefully permit crimes such as murders, plunder and arson in order to deny the Serbs the possibility of returning to Croatia?
3. Were there more than 20,000 homes burned after Storm in the Southern part of the liberated territory?
4. Did the Croatian forces kill more than 600 Serbs during and after Operation Storm?
5. Did the Croatian judicial authorities and the police practice the politics of non-investigation of crimes?
6. Have illegally discriminatory housing laws been introduced?
7. Finally, did the Joint Criminal Enterprise exist in Croatia?
1. WERE SERBS DEPORTED FROM CROATIA?
Firstly, we need to correct some misunderstandings regarding the Trial Chamber judgment in which General Gotovina received a 24 year prison sentence. The Tribunal had concluded that Krajina Serbs were deported ONLY from 4 towns: Knin, Benkovac, Obrovac and Gracac. So, only from those four places.
The Tribunal had concluded that Serb civilians from all other places in the so-called Krajina had left Croatia out of other reasons not associated with any illegal treatmen by the Croatian authorities. Those legal reasons for leaving were:
• “Serbian Republic of Krajina” officials had called upon the population to leave the areas (Trial Chamber judgment paragraph 1762);
• The fear of aggression usually associated with armed conflict (Trial Chamber judgment paragraph 1762);
• Generalised fear from the Croatian forces and disstrust in Croatian authorities (Trial Chamber judgment paragraph 1762); and
• The fact that other Serbs were leaving had caused the effect of some civilians deciding to leave with them (Trial Chamber judgment paragraph 1754, 1762).
Hence, the Hague Tribunal had even in its Trial Chamber judgment found that a huge majority of Serb population from the so-called Krajina had left Croatia out of its own reasons, and that the Croatian authorities were not responsible for that. Only the four said towns were questionable for the Trial Chamber.
2. DID THE CROATIAN AUTHORITIES PERMIT CRIMES:
The Trial Chamber had explicitly rejected the claims that the Croatian authorities had purposefully permitted crimes such as arson, plunder and killings in order to deny the Serbs the possibility of return:
2321. The Trial Chamber found that the common objective of the so-called Criminal enterprise did not amount to, or involve the commission of the crimes of persecution (disappearances of people, wanton destruction, plunder, murder, inhumane acts, cruel treatment, and unlawful detentions), destruction of property, plunder, murder, inhumane acts, and cruel treatment.
Moreover, the Court tribunal did not only find that Croatia did not permit such crimes, but it also found that the Croatian leadership had actively opposed the perpetration of such criminal acts:
2313. However, the evidence, in particular the statements made at meetings and in public reviewed in chapters 6.2.2-6.2.5, does not
indicate that members of the Croatian political and military leadership intended that property inhabited or owned by Krajina Serbs should be destroyed or plundered. Further, it does not indicate that these acts were initiated or supported by members of the leadership. Rather, the evidence includes several examples of meetings and statements (see for example D409, P470, and D1451), indicating that the leadership, including Tudjman, disapproved of the destruction of property. Based on the foregoing, the Trial Chamber does not find that destruction and plunder were within the purpose of the joint criminal enterprise.
3. Were 20,000 homes burned in the South Sector?
This claim was thoroughly discredited at the hearing. This hypothesis, which has constantly been repeated in the past 15 years, is based upon wrong claims made in the 1999 report by the HHO (Croatian Helsinki Committee) on Operation Storm in which HHO claimed that the Canadian General Alain Forand, UN forces chief commander based in Knin, stated that 22,000 houses were burned in the South Sector. The reality is that Forand stated that a total of 22,000 houses in South Sector were inspected, and not that they were burned. The truth regarding the number of burned houses in the liberated area is most likely closer to the report by the UN General Secretary in December 1995: about 5,000 of houses and stables in Sectors North and South were burned after Operation Storm.
4. Did the Croatian forces kill 600 civilians during and after Operation Storm?
This also is a usual claim perpetuated all the time in the media. However, the Prosecution had claimed that about 320 civilians were killed in Sector South, and not 600. The Trial Chamber had found that out of these 320, 44 were killed by members of the Croatian armed forces. The number of Serb civilians killed by Croatian forces is closer to 44 than 600.
5. Did the Croatian judicial authorities and police practice the politics of non-investigation of crimes?
The Court Tribunal had rejected this allegation, which is being repeated in the media all the time, even today, and, after the Appeal decision. In paragraph 2203 of its judgment the Trial Chamber found the following:
The evidence reviewed indicates that some investigatory efforts were made, but with relatively few results. Moreover, there are
indications in the evidence that at the political level, these efforts were motivated at least in part by a concern for Croatia’s international standing rather than by genuine concern for victims. In light of the testimony of expert Albiston, the Trial Chamber considers that the insufficient response by the Croatian law enforcement authorities and judiciary can to some extent be explained by the abovementioned obstacles they faced and their need to perform other duties in August and September 1995. In conclusion, while the evidence indicates incidents of purposeful hindrance of certain investigations, the Trial Chamber cannot positively establish that the Croatian authorities had a policy of non-investigation of crimes committed against Krajina Serbs during and following Operation Storm in the Indictment area.
These are the main findings of the Trial Chamber. As we all know, some parts of this judgment have remained disputable given that General Gotovina was sentenced to 24 years (and General Markac to 18) due to Trial Chamber’s conclusion that General Gotovina had executed illegal artillery attacks against the towns of Knin, Benkovac, Obrovac and Gracac.
That’s why we needed to wait for the final verdict by the Appeals Chamber regarding the disputed matters left from the Trial Chamber judgment, and that final judgment arrived on 16 November 2012. (Acquitting the Croatian generals of all charges).
Appeals Chamber verdict
6 and 7. Joint Criminal Enterprise and housing laws
There was no Joint Criminal Enterprise on the Croatian side. The Appeal Chamber had quashed Trial Chamber judgment on that count, concluding that the Krajina Serbs were not deported from Knin, Benkovac, Obrovac and Gracac, and with that, the Croatian authorities did not deport the Krajina Serbs nor did the Joint Criminal Enterprise involving the Croatian leadership, especially Franjo Tudjman, Gojko Susak, Zvonimir Cervenko, Ante Gotovina, Jure Radic and Mladen Markac – exist.
Furthermore, after the Appeal Chamber verdict, it can be concluded that the Croatian leadership did not pass discriminatory housing laws after Operation Storm (see firstly the Government regulation and then the Temporary assumption and administration of certain property Act/Government Gazette NN 073/1995). That is, the Trial Chamber had found that those housing laws were in breach of the international law as they were introduced after the Serbs from Knin, Benkovac, Obrovac and Gracac were deported from Croatia. However, given that the Appeals Chamber had quashed the finding that the Serbs were displaced, that is deported, the conclusion that housing laws passed after Operation Storm were in contravention of the international humanitarian law must also be quashed.
The ICTY concluded the following:
1. There was no Joint Criminal Enterprise from the Croatian side.
2. Krajina Serbs were not deported from Croatia by the Croatian authorities but left Croatia out of other reasons not associated with any Croatian officials’ illegal behaviour;
3. Not only that the Croatian authorities did not permit crimes against Serbs and Serbs’ property, but they were actively against those crimes;
4. It’s confirmed that 20,000 houses were not burned after Operation Storm. The number is probably closer to 5,000, and that, in both Sectors, North and South.
5. The judgment has found that a total of 44 civilians were killed by the Croatian forces, not 320 as the Prosecution claimed, not 600 as HHO claimed and especially not 2,000 as claimed by „Veritas“ i Savo Strbac.
6. There were no politics of non-investigation of crimes by the Croatian authorities.
7. The housing laws after Operation Storm were not in a collision with the international humanitarian law.”
Written and Translated from the Croatian language by Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb), B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)