Croatian Generals’ ICTY Appeal: zooming into the nitty-gritty

Ante Gotovina (L) Mladen Markac (R)

Croatian Generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac Appeal hearing is set for 14th May. Many wait in intense anticipation. While the charges for war crimes against the generals were and are directed at the Generals as individual people the Trial Chamber’s findings in April 2011 was felt by the nation. The latter in particular because the Trial Chamber judgment decided that there was a Joint Criminal Enterprise through which Croatian leadership planned and executed mass expulsion of Serbs from Croatia as part of Operation Storm (1995, military operation that liberated the Serb occupied areas). Main argument for this finding was that there was excessive – indiscriminate – shelling by the Croatian army at the time. The Trial Chamber had decided that only 200 metre error must apply to shelling, and that there were instances during Operation Storm, albeit relatively small in number, where this was considered not to have been the case. This standard in artillery shelling was one that the Trial Chamber came up with and since then many world leading experts have stated that this was unreasonable and impossible to achieve in any military operation of the same kind.

On Tuesday 24 April 2012 the ICTY Appeal Chamber has issued an Addendum to the Scheduling of Appeal Hearing in which it now wants to ensure that, among any other matters, the essential substance of the Appeal – the nitty-gritty – is addressed at the hearing.

In the Addendum the Appeal Chamber “invites the parties, without prejudice to any other matter which they or the Appeals Chamber may wish to address, to discuss, with references to the record:

  1.   Whether the Trial Chamber erred in applying a 200 metre range of error in analyzing the lawfulness of artillery shelling;
  2. Whether the Trial Chamber’s conclusions regarding impact sites should be upheld if its application of the 200 metre range of error is deemed erroneous;
  3. Whether the Trial Chamber’s finding that illegal artillery attacks took place should be upheld if its conclusions with respect to impact sites are deemed erroneous; and
  4. Whether the Trial Chamber’s finding that a Joint Criminal Enterprise existed should be upheld if its finding that legal artillery attacks took place is deemed erroneous”. 

These issues are not only important to the cases of the Croatian Generals but the outcome of the Appeal on them will, undoubtedly, shape and influence the future of military engagement everywhere. Setting impossible standards of acceptable error in shelling, requiring precision in target hitting that is humanly impossible in similar military operations is a matter that will affect all armies. This has been widely put in the media during the past months (including this website) and to the point where internationally acceptable standards of combat must not be such that they create war criminals where there are none. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps.(Syd)

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