A few days into my visit to my Croatian homeland I could not have wished for a better meeting than being a part of celebrating the recognition of the work and dedication to justice and truth by a remarkable Croatian woman and attorney at law Nika Pinter. Nika Pinter was awarded the 2017 Croatian Women’s Network Award for Leadership and Innovation.
However, the most amazing and heart-filling professional undertaking of Pinter’s current pursuits and those of the recent past lies in her dedication to Croatian truth and the defence in the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague of Croatian General from Bosnia and Herzegovina Slobodan Praljak, whose indictment for alleged war crimes, now on Appeal in The Hague, falls into the group of indictments also known as “Herceg-Bosnia Six”. The Hague Appeals Chamber will commence hearing the appeal on 20th March 2017 and Nika Pinter will be there armed with the truth and arguments that hopefully will blow the Trial Chamber’s guilty vedict out of the water. The truth and justice must win in the end despite the false and vitriolic allegation of war crimes against Praljak and his five co-accused in The Hague. Truth and we must keep a positive a hopeful outlook just as it was in the cases against the Croatian Generals Ante Gotovina and Malden Markac who were acquitted in 2012 of war crimes they were indicted for by the ahague a prosecutor.
As many will remember the ICTY 2013 Trial Chamber sentenced the six Bosnia and Herzegovina Croats to prison sentences ranging from ten to twenty five years for crimes against Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina committed as part of a joint criminal enterprise. The six are jadranko Prljic, Bruno Stojic, Milivoj Petkovic, Slobodan Praljak, Valentin Coric. and Berislav Pusic.
The Trial Chamber concluded, with a dissenting opinion of Judge Jean-Claude Antonetti, that the conflict between HVO (Croatian defence council) and the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1993-1994 was an international conflict and that most crimes against the Muslim population of Herceg Bosnia which the accused are charged with were committed as part of joint criminal enterprise that also involved a part of Croatian political and military leadership including Franjo Tudjman.
According to the Trial Chamber ‘s colourful imagination the implementation, the purpose of the said joint criminal enterprise was to establish a Croatian entity in the boundaries of the 1939 Croatian Banovina and eventually annexe that territory to Croatia in case Bosnia and Herzegovina disintegrated.
Mid-March 2016, Croatia submitted an application to be granted the status of an amicus curiae and join in appeals proceedings in the case at the ICTY in which the highest Croatian officials – former President Franjo Tudjman, former Defence Minister Gojko Susak, and former Croatian Army Chief-of-Staff Janko Bobetko – were declared, in a non-final verdict in the case, to have participated in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at ethnically cleaning parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The trial judgement delivered in 2013 found that the three, now deceased, Croatian officials devised and implemented an alleged criminal enterprise with the aim of changing the ethnic make-up of the territories claimed to form part of the Croatian Republic of Herceg-Bosna by allegedly directing and coordinating events on the ground to commit the crimes which resulted from a a plan to remove the Muslim population from that area.
In its request Croatia noted that it wishes to be granted status amicus curiae for two reasons. Firstly because the trial chamber, in its judgement written on more than two thousand pages, did not cite a single piece of evidence that would corroborate the conclusion that Tudjman, Susak and Bobetko committed those crimes or intended for them to be committed and secondly, because by concluding that they were members of a criminal enterprise the trial chamber violated the European Convention on Human Rights.
In its request Croatia asked to be allowed to “file this amicus curiae brief and appear as amicus curiae in these proceedings” because it believes that it would be “desirable” as it would “assist [the Appeals Chamber] in the proper determination of the case.”
In its response dated March 31, ICTY prosecutors objected to Croatia’s request.
It is clear to all involved and all that follow this case that the case itself is difficult and complex particularly given the frequently encountered conclusions by the prosecution and Trial Chamber judges that point to a utilisation of political analyses rather than hard evidence.
Let’s mark the coming days to 20th March and beyond to the moments of Appeal Chamber deliberations with prayers for the Croatian six from Heceg Bosna and their acquittal. Good luck Nika and all the Croatian defence team and hopefully Croatia itself will reignite its unconditional support for these brave and heroic warriors for Croatian freedom. Ina Vukic