Keepers of Communist and Serb Crimes in Croatia Suffocate Progress

Croatia is surely one of the most fertile grounds in the world for historians, political analysts, social psychologists, and those in fervent pursuits of truth to study and stand back cringing in disgust at the open and palpable tactics utilised by former communists (under the mask of antifascism) in the prostitution of transition from a totalitarian regime into a democratic one. If we adopt the position of labelling the hiding or desecrating the truth about crimes committed as a wicked act (if not criminal), then the coalition of Croatian HDZ and SDP governments in the past decade or so with the SDSS Serb minority in parliament reminds us of a joint wicked enterprise. A kind of a political joint wicked enterprise that strips the dignity off the defender of Croatia from brutal aggression. The joint wicked enterprise whose task manifests itself in the hiding, in the twisting, in the distorting of truth of countless crimes perpetrated by Yugoslav communists/Partisans against the Croatian people seeking independence in both World War II and by Serbs in the Croatian Homeland War of 1990’s as well as in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  

A normal, compassionate government would not even contemplate on forming a coalition with those who attacked its people from inside, like rebel Serbs living in Croatia at the time and their family members, joined in these crimes by Serbs from Serbia. A normal government of Croatia would know what it meant for its democracy-loving people in early 1990’s when the Serbs engaged in relentless and brutal campaigns of ethnic cleansing, expelling Croats (in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina) and other non-Serbs from their homes, wreaking mass murder, rape, torture and devastation.  

This type of government coalition is much about blaming the victim – freedom loving Croat in this case – and justifying or shutting a blind eye at mass crimes perpetrated by communist Yugoslavia partisans during WWII and after it, as well as multitude of those committed by communist Yugoslavia nostalgics during the 1990’s war of Serb aggression. This type of government by participating in and tolerating such distortions and belittling of the historical truth of the territories populated by communist agendas and the agenda of Greater Serbia stifle and suffocate true democracy. It is in their interests to do so, otherwise the acknowledgement of communist crimes for the depravity they represent would sink them utterly and completely into the garbage bin of history, where they belong. The pursuits of secession from communist Yugoslavia in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina during 1990’s aimed to achieve exactly that: dump communism and its totalitarian regime into the garbage bin of history. While these pursuits were successful militarily and with heroic gumption of Croatian independence fighters, they encountered monumental failures after the War ended. The communist mindset grew wings in its efforts to redeem the unredeemable monstrosities of Yugoslav communists and their Serb echelons. Anyone attempting to show the truth, to research the truth, to lift Croatia where it should have been decades ago after the Homeland War ended, well rid of the communist mindset and its stinking corrupt heritage, finds himself, or herself, labelled revisionist and still fighting for dignity of the good fight it fought when seceding by the will of the people from communist Yugoslavia.      

 Given that such government coalition in Croatia has also scooped under its wings the mainstream media, the truth and horror of Yugoslav communist crimes in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, of Serb-perpetrated crimes, suffers deeply. It’s difficult to say how long the truth-loving people will need to keep investing their energy in disputing the communist filthy mantra that communists liberated Croatia in 1945 and showing-up Serb denials of depravities they committed against Croats during 1990’s. The strong communist mindset thriving within such government coalition in Croatia has placed often insurmountable barriers on the road of achieving full and functional democracy since the Homeland War ended completely in late 1990’s.

The month of July is as telling as any month of the year where we see examples of such despicable approaches to historical truths.

The historical village of Srb belongs to the Boricevac parish in Croatia that in Spring of 1941 saw, at the hands of communist partisans, great human and property suffering and destruction of Croats. Their houses, church, parish residence, were burned and destroyed. All the Catholic faithful of this parish, about two thousand of them, had to leave their centuries-old homes, and unfortunately, to this day, their descendants have not realised the right of return. The inhabitants of the village of Ivezici, 37 of them, failed to escape and all were murdered and thrown into a pit, near Brotnja, on Dabin peak. In 2017 their exhumation was carried out and they were buried in the Catholic cemetery in Boricevac. And yet, one will not find this historical truth in any Croatian mainstream media. What one will find there in relation to the historical village of Srb is the Serbian National Council of Croatia, supported by the government, holding a commemoration dedicated to the so-called first antifascist uprising (against the fight for independent Croatia). The fact that horrific crimes were committed by anti-fascists against local Croats during the uprising is not mentioned anywhere where the Croatian Serbs in coalition with the government have a say. The pure truth is not a pastime the so-called antifascists of Croatia have any time or will for.

A sad state of affairs in Croatia, indeed!

This day (24 July) in 1992, the village of Brisevo in the municipality of Prijedor, became a torture and hell for the Croatian people, wrote retired General and former Member of Croatian Parliament, Zeljko Glasnovic (pictured above), on his Facebook page last week, 67 Croats were brutally killed. Everyone to the last was a civilian. The Serbs beat the killed Croats to exhaustion, cut the tendons on their arms and legs with knives, cut off their flesh from their bodies, slaughtered them, stabbed them in the body, cut off their noses, ears, genitals, ripped their bellies, broke their ribs, bludgeoned them with clubs and hoes, forced mothers, wives and children to observe the brutality and abuse of men after which women and girls were raped. You will not hear about this monstrous crime in the Croatian media. Brisevo has never existed for the Croatian media! For, the people need to be kept in ignorance, in guilt and obedience of every kind. This is the testimony of one girl (Helena Komljen, from the book on Brisevo victims by Frano Pilipovic and Ivo Atlija) who survived this horrific massacre:

“I was 13 and I remember everything well. I know we couldn’t escape anywhere, we had to stay at home and wait for our fate. As a child, I didn’t understand it all, although I used to hear Mum and Dad talk so I was scared I was also afraid that the infantry would destroy and kill us all, and I had no idea what infantry was. I thought about how we could hide and run away somewhere, although all that when I think about it now was impossible. So, the days passed in fear that some grenade may hit us, because they also shelled us sometimes as well. Then came the worst day of my life, July 24, 1992, when I was left without everything by Serbian soldiers. No family, no friends, no childhood. Only my little brother was left with me. I don’t know what it would be like if he wasn’t with me afterwards. It was morning and we all got up, Nedo Mlinar passed by our house and told us that we had to hang a white sheet on the house and that no one would touch those houses. It was then that all of us with white sheets perished. Everything was the other way around.

Around 12 o’clock, exactly what we were all afraid of – happened; the infantry entered the village. We were in the house when they threw a Zolja rocket on the roof, I was in the bathroom, I could only feel the pieces of the ceiling falling on me and the dust and hissing in my ears. We all ran outside in panic to hide in our grandparents’ basement because we didn’t have a basement in our house. My brother managed to run to my grandparents, my mum and dad managed to hide under our house, and I stayed in the middle, neither here nor there. They started firing at me in bursts, I saw bullets near my feet crashing into the ground and raising dust, cutting down plum branches and then suddenly, I fell. As I fell bullets flew over me. God was with me and saved me, that’s what I felt then. Dad thought I was hit, he called me from the side and when he saw me looking at him, he told me to get up abruptly and run to them as fast as I could. That’s what I did, and they didn’t shoot then. Then they called from above from the hill that we should all come to them otherwise they would come and kill us all, even the children they emphasised. Then my dad said, there’s no life here anymore. And of course, to save ourselves since we couldn’t escape anywhere, we went to them.

My dad immediately recognised a man who went to school with him, told him you could have killed my daughter. The same man and a few others took my dad, my grandpa and my uncle somewhere. My grandmother, mum, brother and I stayed there with the others. There were about 20 of them on that road. Grandma told them she would bring them food and water and they told her she was talking too much and that she wanted to poison them. Then one completely young man, maybe 16 years old, came to me and played with a knife in front of my face. Grandma said nothing more, she was afraid he might kill me. I was in shock, I no longer felt or feared, I didn’t care, like in a movie, in fog and I don’t know where. We were all silent, mum was holding my brother and me and grandma were sitting next to each other on the ground. Then again one of the Serb soldiers started shooting near my ear in the direction of the forest. Mum and grandma begged him, don’t, then one came to mum and said, ‘how about we kill your son, he will kill us when he grows up.’ She told them in a sad voice, don’t please, he won’t kill anyone. At that moment, 4 or 5 of them were returning, taking my dad, grandad and uncle, bloodied pants, and shoes. When grandma saw that she just cried and told her my kids are dead. They came and showed us their legs how they were wounded, how the Ustashas wounded them and that the blood on them was from the Ustashas. I will never forget my grandmother’s and mother’s face, that fear and that sadness, and they kept silent because every word could mean death for them.

Memorial to victims of Serb crimes in Brisevo

They told us to go to the weekend cottage nearby. As we were going up the one that killed my dad, grandpa and uncle said grandma stays because she talked a lot. We went on and entered the cottage. After 5 minutes two shots were heard. At that moment, I felt that my grandmother was dead. Mum looked at me and that look of hers full of fear confirmed once again that grandma was dead. She was holding my brother in front of her, and I was about 2 meters away from her. They told my brother to come to me and my brother came to me. Then, a Serbian soldier slapped my mother across the face and told her that she was a whore and that she was giving birth to Ustashas. Then, I noticed right across from me one person I knew, it was M.I., and I was hoping he could help us. I begged him with my eyes to do something or say something, but he just kept quiet. Even in his eyes there was fear. He later told me that he tried to tell a soldier, but he told him to keep quiet, otherwise he would kill him if he tried to save someone. Then they told my brother and me that we had to get out of the cottage because a soldier was waiting for us on the main road to take us to the command. We went out and I thought it was our turn now. The one who said that to us came out with us, drew his gun, and told us to run. We did that, we ran lightly, waiting for the bullet to pierce our backs, but it didn’t fire. Good luck again and God’s help. As we moved running like that, we passed our grandmother lying dead on her back, her arms folded beside her head as if praying to God. Blood was still dripping from her forehead, her eyes closed as if asleep. My grandmother, whom I loved the most in the world and without whom I could not sleep a single night, now I look at her dead in that worst way. We passed by that too and down the road a man was waiting for us. He told us sadly, oh dear children this is a war, and I will take you to safety to the command. I don’t know who that man was, I never saw him again. We went that way and then he left us with Dule in the command. So, it was a command for them.

They kept us in the attic for a few days to survive somehow, gave us food and water. There were, I don’t know anymore, exactly, maybe about 15 people. I just cried and cried day and night. In order for a group of Serb soldiers to pass, they would enter the house near Dule, and they wanted to inspect the whole house in case anyone hid. As for my mother, she was left alone in the cottage, she was taken back with 4 soldiers to the house, they raped her, bit her, tore pieces of flesh from her chest and then took her out from under the house and shot her in the head. Everyone heard her cries and moans. A few days later, my mum was buried by her brother himself and he confirmed it all. Later, my brother and I were in Ljubija with Ned Dimac and Nada and their children. They helped us a lot, they fed us and took care of us for 2 months, for sure. After that, my brother and I went to Croatia by bus. It was very difficult, years of fear and bad dreams, a big black hole in my heart and a broken childhood.”

Ina Vukic

Serb War Criminal Ratko Mladic Must Still Answer For Crimes Against Croats

Serb aggression – Skabrnja massacre victims in Croatia

After a very long legal battle in the Hague, Ratko Mladic, the Serb dubbed “butcher of Bosnia”, was finally and firmly pronounced guilty of genocide and imposed a life sentence by the UN Appeals judges during last week. It is a pity and a crying injustice for the international criminal justice that Ratko Mladic was neither charged nor tried in the Hague for the heinous crimes he committed in Croatia prior to moving to the Bosnian territory, which were just a brutal as those he committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

One wonders, therefore, in whose political or otherwise interest it is to deliver such piecemeal justice for victims of crimes committed by one and the same person!? Some might say, and many have said, that this case of Ratko Mladic and its verdict, despite the long time it took, remains an important warning to criminals, especially dictators, that, slowly but surely, they will be brought to answer for their crimes. Well, Mladic was not brought to answer for all the known crimes he committed, and the justice delivered in the Hague in his case is a selective justice – the one afforded to some and not to all victims.

On Tuesday 8 June 2021, the United Nations International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals in The Hague Appeals Chamber, with the exception of Judge Prisca Nyambe, confirmed the 2017 Trial Chamber’s ruling, finding Mladic guilty of commanding violent ethnic cleansing campaigns across the country and sniping and shelling attacks against the civilian population of Sarajevo between May 1992 and November 1995, committing genocide against an estimated 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica between July and at least October 1995 using the forces under his command, and using UN peacekeepers as human shields after taking them hostage from May to June 1995.

But the Appeals Chamber also dismissed the parallel appeal against Mladic brought by the prosecution, which had sought a second conviction against Mladic for genocide committed against Muslims and Croats in other areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina (five municipalities) during the early phase of the war from 1992. Certainly, this ruling that excluded convictions for genocidal crimes in these other areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina will certainly weaken and undermine international community’s convictions that more robust and decisive actions by the international community at the time to curb, to stop, what has become known as “a slow-motion genocide” perpetrated by Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina should and could have been pursued. Foca, Kotor-Varos, Prijedor, Sanski Most and Vlasenica, the campaign of persecution escalated to such a degree that it demonstrated precisely the intent to destroy Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats as a group. The prosecution was not successful in achieving a conviction for these crimes of genocide that were a part of the Serb joint criminal enterprise in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It is alarmingly unjust and cruel towards victims and justice that similar crimes committed by Ratko Mladic in Croatia, prior to his criminal spree in Bosnia and Herzegovina were not included in his Hague international tribunal for war crimes indictment. While Mladic acted in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a commander of the so-called self-proclaimed Serbian Republic Army when he was stationed in Croatia he was a commander in the Yugoslav People’s Army that set out to quash the Croatian people who wanted secession from communist Yugoslavia and independence and, as such, rebel Serb agenda in Croatia suited him and his campaign of persecution and murder of Croatians in the own homes, on their own land escalated to such a degree that it demonstrated precisely the intent to destroy Croats as a group in all areas of Croatia where Serbs lived in larger numbers.

In July 1992, the County Court in the coastal town of Sibenik in Croatia sentenced Ratko Mladic to twenty years imprisonment for the attack on the village of Kijevo, which totally destroyed the village in the Dalmatian hinterland, on August 26, 1991.

Mladic was also sentenced for ordering attacks on the villages around the towns of Sinj and Vrlika in the Croatian Dalmatian hinterland in the period between September 16 until 23, 1991. In those attacks many civilians were killed.

In December 1995, Croatian prosecutors filed an indictment against Mladic for an attempt to destroy a hydro plant in the village of Peruca near Sinj.

By the time Mladic was appointed as the commander of the 9th JNA Corps in the Croatian town of Knin on June 3, 1991, the territory was already cut off from the rest of Croatia, because Croatian Serbs, who proclaimed the Serb Autonomous Territory of Krajina in 1990, barricaded the roads around Knin on August 17, 1990. Mladic aligned himself with rebel Serb forces and ethnic cleansing of Croats and other non-Serbs, persecution, killing, rape, plunder… commenced. Many civilians were killed and wounded during the shelling of Croatian villages and towns, and water and electricity supplies were blocked for months.

It is held that Ratko Mladic, as a Yugoslav Army commander that sided with Serb aggression against Croatians and Croatia, is responsible for the brutal massacres and slaughter of 88 Croatian people in the village of Skabrnja, near Zadar, on November 18, 1991 and the death of 30 Croatian people in the village of Saborsko in central Croatia, also in November 1991. 

At the time of his command in Croatia in 1991, Mladic can certainly be linked to the crimes in Knin and its surroundings, in the hinterland of Zadar and Šibenik, and especially to the crime in Skabrnja, which in its blatant ethnic cleansing had the character of genocidal intent.

The Croatian prosecutor’s office had reportedly informed the ICTY about the verdicts in Croatia against Ratko Mladic and the investigations against Mladic in 2003. After Mladic was arrested in July 2011 (having hidden in Serbia and Serbian Republic for some 16 years under an assumed name and identity to avoid prosecution in the Hague for war crimes), then Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor announced Croatia would “insist” that the ICTY includes crimes in Croatia into Mladic’s indictment. But the ICTY did not include Croatia’s findings in its indictment causing public outcry in the country. The reported reason for that decision was that the Hague needed to economise its proceedings, so it pursued only the crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina.The Croatian authorities at the time, which included the former communist Yugoslavia operative Stjepan Mesic, was not about to represent on the international levels the truth about the Serb aggression against Croatia. If anything, they played it down and attempted to criminalised Croatia’s defence efforts of the Homeland War. All for the glory of the failed communist totalitarian and criminal regime of Yugoslavia.

Last week in a Press Release responding to the verdict against Ratko Mladic in the Hague the government of Croatia expressed regret and dissatisfaction that “Ratko Mladic was not indicted and convicted for numerous crimes committed during the aggression on the Republic of Croatia, where he started his bloody campaign, continuing it in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” Well now, the Croatian government achieves nothing but bitterness from the public by pretending it is sorry that the Hague tribunal did not consider Mladic’s crimes in Croatia. After all, the Croatian governments and its Presidents since the year 2000 did nothing much, nothing decisive, to truly ensure Mladic’s crimes are included in the Hague indictment. These were the years when the former Yugoslav communists took increasing hold of power in Croatia, these were the years that saw Croatian Government and Presidents enter into extraordinary measures, including fabrications and lies against Croats, in attempts to equate the Serb aggressor with the Croatian victim during that 1990’s war of Serb aggression. Nothing short of treason in my books. The Croatian Government should have made big noises throughout the world, within the UN itself, insisting that crimes perpetrated by Ratko Mladic be included in the indictments against him. They did no such thing, and one must ask why, or rather, one must conclude that the very top echelons of Croatian power at the time did not want the world to see how truly brutal and depraved Serb aggression against Croatia was. I just hope that new indictments will, at Croatia’s instigation, be raised against Ratko Mladic in the near future for the crimes committed in Croatia. It is very important for the victims of these crimes, their families and for justice that those responsible are held to account.

It is likely that the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals – the institution that succeeded the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague – will hand down a first-instance verdict by the end of this month to Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic, wartime heads of Serbia’s State Security Department and Slobodan Milosevic’s closest informants. They are accused of participating in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at “forcibly and permanently removing most non-Serbs, primarily Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats, from large parts of Croatia and BiH, by committing the crimes of persecution, murder, deportation and forcible transfer.”  The eventual conviction of Stanisic and Simatovic could be the first, and the last, in which the heart of the Milosevic regime, which was the Department of State Security, is singled out and declared a key link in the chain of Serb criminal enterprise in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Viewed from the perspective of the current Serbian state policy that denies genocide and aggression against Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, finding Stanisic and Simatovic guilty would be a heavier blow to them than the vast majority of previous Hague verdicts, including Mladic’s. Serbs may at last start looking truth in the eye and see themselves for what they were and are in their depraved imperialistic appetites for Greater Serbia. Ina Vukic

CROATIA: Poaching In The Hague – An Interview With Nika Pinter

REDUCING FACTS TO FIT A MYTH – A HORRIBLE MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE

Book Covers “Poaching in the Hague” by Miroslav Tudjman. Portrait Photo of Nika Pinter (C) by B. Čović/ Glas Koncila

Interview by Ina Vukic

(Interview in the Croatian language can be accessed by clicking this link/ preuzmite injercju na hrvatskom jeziku)

In 2019 the late Professor Dr. Miroslav Tudjman wrote a book which should be compulsory reading, not only for those interested in the tangled story of the Croat-Muslim War of 1992-1994, but also in the work of the Hague Tribunal (ICTY), its evidently biased approach in the case of the so-called Herceg Bosna Six (Jadranko Prlic, Milivoj Petkovic, Bruno Stojic, Slobodan Praljak, Berislav Pusic and Valentin Coric) and in the wider problems of supranational criminal justice.

Readers may remember that in May of 2013 the ICTY Trial Chamber pronounced these six defendants guilty of the so-called Joint Criminal Enterprise and its Appeal Chamber confirmed this verdict on 29 November 2017. As the Appeal Judges pronounced its guilty verdict, General Slobodan Praljak, one of the six defendants, committed suicide in front of the sitting court, the televised images of which suicide circled the world in a shock that rocked the very foundations of the ICTY’s delivery of justice. As he consumed the poison in the courtroom Slobodan Praljak faced the judges and said: “Judges, Slobodan Praljak is not a war criminal. With contempt, I reject your verdict!

The ICTY case against the Herceg Bosna Six is now remembered principally for the act of suicide of General Slobodan Praljak, televised and in open court. But Dr Miroslav Tudjman’s lucid investigation of the judicial process should leave any objective reader with another impression, namely of the systematic and cumulative unfairness of what transpired. In that light I interviewed Nika Pinter, A Croatian former court judge who also served as an attorney on the General Slobodan Praljak’s defence team in the Hague, at the ICTY.

Miroslav Tudjman’s book “Haški krivolov”, which was published in 2019, aroused great interest around the world and was recently published in English with the title “Poaching in the Hague”. How much do you think the very title of that book contributed to the public’s significant curiosity?

The title of Dr. Tudjman’s book is intriguing and certainly, under such a title, arouses curiosity about the content provided to the reader. The title suggests that actions in the criminal process were carried out in an incorrect manner and contrary to the rules of criminal procedure. The book shows how a verdict should not be written and how criminal proceedings should not be conducted. I hope that the book will be read and also read by people who are prone to their own theses and who support the myths about the “division of Bosnia”, the myth of aggression of the Republic of Croatia against Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), the myth about a plan of Croatian politicians during the war to annex part of BiH.

In your opinion, why is this book by Dr. M. Tudjman so important and to whom is it mainly directed?

I don’t think the book is intended for any specific reader profile. It is addressed to all readers who are interested in the facts about the Hague verdict in the Prlic et al. case and how the facts on the basis of which the verdict was rendered were established in the proceedings. I want to believe that the book will be a stimulus to historians and experts in criminal law and procedure for an analytical approach to the criminal proceedings conducted before the Tribunal in The Hague.

A great deal of effort has been put into writing the book. It was necessary to read a significant number of pages of court records, closing letters of the defence, review hundreds of documents in order to make a comprehensive analysis. The work paid off, because we got facts placed in order in one place. And those facts are a response to the myths we have been hearing for years about the alleged meeting in Karadjordjevo, about the alleged division of Bosnia and Herzegovina, about the alleged existence of a joint criminal enterprise.

With its content, the book indisputably shows that the conclusion in the verdict, in relation to the joint criminal enterprise, is based on the reduction of facts. The conclusion about the existence of a fact cannot be derived from a part of a document, but the whole document must be read and then the facts from the document must be connected with the events to which they refer and put in context. Selectivity in the choice of the content within a document leads to a reduction of facts, and reduced facts are unreliable, leading to erroneous determination of decisive facts and factually unfounded conclusions and then to wrong application of law.

Drawing a conclusion at will and not from the facts presented in the criminal proceedings cannot lead to a fair and factually based verdict. The book clearly shows this only on a segment, an important segment, of the existence of Joint Criminal Enterprise (JCE).

Witnesses on whose testimonies the court based its decision in relation to the JCE are elaborated in detail in the book, their testimonies, allegations, interpretations. And then they are contradicted by evidence that refutes their allegations. Just the facts.

Dr. Miroslav Tudjman says: “The indictment and the verdict on the Joint Criminal Enterprise are not based on material facts but on interpretations of written documents (primarily presidential transcripts), on the testimonies of witnesses who were not direct participants in certain events but their interpreters, on expertise and conspiracy theories (Karadjordjevo is the crowning proof of a conspiracy, about which there are no witnesses or records)”.

Do you think that the content of this book actually justifies the widespread opinion in the world that the Hague International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was largely defined by political efforts rather than hard evidence of the crimes that many Croats were accused of?

I think so, indeed. The verdict ignored the defence evidence and the conclusions in the verdict were based on the allegations in the indictment and the actions taken by the policy of the Croat people in BiH and the Republic of Croatia were assessed outside the context of peace talks, conferences and requests of international representatives. This is my conclusion as a defence counsel in the case, and by analysing the testimony of witnesses and documents, Dr. Tudjman concluded the same in the book. In presenting the book, I referred to Resolution No. 827 adopted on 23 May 1993, by which the UN Security Council established the ICTY and adopted its Statute, and strongly emphasised that the judges, the prosecutors and the staff be significantly equipped with experience in criminal procedure (extracted from provisional verbatim record of the three thousand two hundred and seventeenth meeting Held at Headquarters, New York, on Tuesday, 25 May 1993, at 9 p.m).

Ms. Madeleine Albright, as the representative of the United States, reminded all, among other things, of the statement she made in previous sessions: “This will be no victors’ tribunal. The only victor that will prevail in this endeavour is the truth. “(S / PV.3175, p. 11)” (This will not be a victorious court. The only winner that will prevail in that endeavour will be the truth).

However, the aim of the investigation was not to establish the facts about the responsibility of the accused persons, but the Prosecutor used the reverse method of bringing about charges. He first decided who to charge, and then he went in search of evidence and only those that support his thesis. As I have also been a prosecutor for a significant part of my life, I know that the facts are first established by evidence, which then shows or points to the perpetrator. In this case it was the other way around.

The proceedings were not conducted as proceedings in a criminal case, nor were the judges professionals with experience in criminal procedure and the winner was certainly not the truth.

International criminal tribunals seek the twin goals of domestic catharsis and bringing culpable individuals to justice. Based on your extensive experience at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, how do you see this balance being struck in practice?

My position on this is visible from the answers I have already given here and that position is that there was no possibility of achieving a balance in bringing individuals before the court. Dr. Jadranko Prlic’s defence counsel, Michael G. Karnavas, on his blog ( http://michaelgkarnavas.net/blog/2017/12/05/praljaks-defiance/ )  regarding the Appeal Chamber verdict in the text entitled General Praljak’s honorable defiance, among other things, wrote:

“…when the ICTY website, outreach material, and exhibition posters depicted the narrative below (or a variation of it) before, during, and after the trial, and while the appeal was pending:

The republic’s [BiH’s] strategic position made it subject to both Serbia and Croatia attempting to assert dominance over large chunks of its territory. In fact, the leaders of Croatia and Serbia had in 1991 already met in a secret meeting where they agreed to divide up Bosnia and Herzegovina, leaving a small enclave for Muslims.

… Bosnian Croats soon followed, rejecting the authority of the Bosnian Government and declaring their own republic with the backing of Croatia. The conflict turned into a bloody three-sided fight for territories, with civilians of all ethnicities becoming victims of horrendous crimes.

In light of these claimed facts on the ICTY website, can it be said that the accused in Prlić et al. truly enjoyed the presumption of innocence? For years this text has been part of the ICTY narrative for public consumption. It was not drafted by accident. Nor is it likely that it was posted and paraded about without the express approval of the presidents of the ICTY. Incidentally, sitting on the Appeals Chamber in Prlić et al. were two former presidents (Judge Theodor Meron and Judge Fausto Pocar) and the current president, Judge Carmel Agius…”

I believe that with this quote from the lawyer Karnavas, whose position I fully share, I explained why there was no balance and why its achievement was not even wanted when bringing individuals to court.

In relation to guilt by chain of command, the former Chief Prosecutor at the Hague, Louise Arbour, said in an interview published by PBS during her tenure that “What this statute actually provides is the fact that these acts– genocides, crimes against humanity, violations of the laws in customs of war–thought they were committed by a subordinate does not relieve his superior of criminal responsibility, if the superior knew or had reason to know that the subordinate was about to commit such acts, or had done so and the superior failed to take the necessary and reasonable measures to prevent such acts, or to punish the perpetrators, thereafter. So that, in a nutshell, is the doctrine of command responsibility. It’s the responsibility of superiors, it’s a concept that originates in army settings, in military settings. But in a civil administration setting it would apply to any person who has control over a subordinate (who committed crimes). He can be personally criminally liable if he knew or should have known that the subordinate was committing crimes and failed in his duty of supervision to stop him.”

You are a lawyer by profession, and you have dealt specifically with criminal law, how do you see the fact that the indictments of the Hague Tribunal were often based not on the commission of a war crime but on the so-called command responsibility and were you satisfied with the manner and evidence with which the Hague Tribunal tried to prove command responsibility? Namely, as a lawyer, are you satisfied with the thoroughness of the evidence that the court requested from the prosecution, and if you were not professionally satisfied, why?

My many years of experience in criminal law cannot reconcile with the way in which criminal responsibility of a superior (command responsibility) is established in proceedings before the ICTY. The basic criterion in determining guilt in criminal proceedings is the objective effect of the criminal offense (actus reus) and the subjective component on the part of the accused (mens rea).

To claim that a commander is responsible for issuing combat orders is beyond the process and life logic.

We are talking about war. In war, the commander issues orders in order for them to be carried out. It can by no means be an element of a crime. But an order does not in itself prove an order for a crime. In order to be responsible, the commander must be informed of the crime, so he must know about it. I agree with Louise Arbour on the definition of command responsibility “if the superior knew or had reason to know that the subordinate committed such acts or did so and the superior did not take the necessary and reasonable measures to prevent such acts or to punish the perpetrators thereafter”. The verdict does not indicate any evidence linking the accused directly to the crime, or that he may be charged with failure to go unpunished within his authority. The evidence provided by the prosecutor in the proceedings does not allow such a conclusion even by applying the method utilising indications. The links to close the chain of indications are missing, which, after making a closed circle, do not allow any other conclusion except that the commander knew about the actions of the subordinate and did nothing to prevent crimes or punish the perpetrator.

In the criminal proceedings against the senior military commanders, I am of the opinion that the decision on the responsibility of the superior should have been made by the military court, and as General Praljak insisted. The basis for the criminal responsibility of the commander is marked with three Cs – Command, Communication, Control. If one of the elements is missing, it cannot be claimed that the commander is responsible. The prosecutor did not provide evidence of the existence of all three elements of C.

The criminal proceedings, in the way they were conducted and approached primarily by the prosecutor, resembled the proceedings before the International Commission for the establishment of crimes, where descriptions, feelings, assessments, and political condemnations are sufficient.

To clarify, at no point were the crimes denied, they were undisputed. It was disputable whether the accused knew about these crimes, whether they were responsible for them and whether they ordered them.

This book by Miroslav Tudjman deals in particular with the analysis of the Hague Tribunal’s proceedings in the case of Jadranko Prlic, Bruno Stojic, Slobodan Praljak, Milivoj Petkovic, Valentin Coric and Berislav Pusic, the so-called case of the Herceg Bosna Six. Can it be concluded from that book that the Hague Tribunal rendered a wrong verdict of guilty for these six and for Joint Criminal Enterprise and if your answer is affirmative why do you think or assess it that way?

The content of the book gives an affirmative answer to this question. Yes, in relation to the Joint Criminal Enterprise, the verdict was not rendered on the basis of the facts available.

The book systematically and analytically deals with why there was no basis for a JCE conviction. I have nothing to add to the analysis given in the book. It should certainly be emphasised that the Trial Chamber Presiding Judge in relation to JCE gave his extensive opinion in which he explained why in this particular case there is no basis for claiming the existence of JCE. The judgment in the first-instance proceedings, in the Trial Chamber, was not rendered unanimously.

The verdict was handed down on a significant reduction of documents, contents of which went in favour of the defence and refutation of the claim about the existence of JCE. This was especially true of the evidence related to the attacks and offensives of the BIH Army and the participation of the Mujahideen in its ranks.

As a lawyer, you were personally on General Slobodan Praljak’s defence team. During the trial and appeal, did you experience protests that justice and the truth about Croatia’s efforts in the war on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina would be denied or incomplete?

Yes. Decisions on the admission of defence evidence, the admission of segments of individual documents, the selective approach to the admission of defence evidence and the non-selective approach to the admission of prosecution evidence often frustrated me.  All the effort put in with the best intention of presenting all the facts, so that the Chamber would have a chance to reach a proper verdict, seemed futile, but we did not give up. In the end, yes, it was in vain. 

The proceedings before the Tribunal are a compilation of two legal systems, Common law and Civil law. However, the basic principles of criminal procedure remain the same, the prosecutor must base his accusation on the evidence and its content. The manner in which the indictment was filed, just contrary to the principles of criminal procedure, shifted the burden of proof to the defence.

The prosecutor came from the Anglo-Saxon legal field with the aim of winning, regardless of the facts. The defence had matured in a legal order in which the goal is to establish the facts, and the prosecutor and the court and the defence have that obligation. And it is not a question of winning the process at any cost, but of establishing the facts with evidence. In the legal order I come from in criminal proceedings there is no maxim rule that the goal justifies the means. The goal is not to indict at all costs or to obtain a conviction at all costs. We have not advocated a thesis, if the facts do not support the allegations of the prosecution, then that’s worse for the facts.

In one of her presentations, I can now not determine exactly whether written or oral, journalist and author Visnja Staresina referred to the professor of international law at Paris Oest, Alain Pallet, and his position published in Vecernji list on September 27, 1997:

In our continental legal system, the investigation is conducted by the prosecutor and the investigating judge, the prosecutor is not autonomous, but is under the control of the judge and when the investigating judge assesses reasonable suspicion, he submits the file to the prosecutor to decide whether to indict. It is the task of the investigating judge to establish the truth. In the American system, with an adversarial procedure, in which the investigation is entrusted to the prosecutor, he tries to find all the evidence that is against the accused, and not to establish the truth.”

Can you explain the concept of Joint Criminal Enterprise and whether this concept is accepted in other countries, e.g. Australia, USA, UK?

Yes, but only in brief, because countless papers have dealt with the concept of JCE. I refer to Prof. Mirjan Damasca (Yale School of Law) who wrote that the JCE doctrine was built by the ICTY. The Hague tribunal, first the prosecutor and then the court, resorted to the construction of the JCE institute because the institute of indirect command responsibility (Article 7, paragraph 3 of the Statute) proved flawed and insufficient to prosecute all those it sought to prosecute. crimes committed. Therefore, he derived the doctrine of JCE from Article 7, paragraph 1 of the Statute 27. (Dr. Mirjan Damasca. On the criminal law analysis of the charges before the Hague Tribunal against high officials and military commanders of the Republic of Croatia for a “joint criminal enterprise” in Operation Storm. // Round table. Zagreb: Croatian Academy of Legal Sciences/ University of Zagreb, Faculty of Law, 2005., pp- 1.-39.)

I found it difficult to accept this form of criminal responsibility.

The “basic” type, or first category of JCE, encompasses all defendants who act with a common purpose and have the same criminal intent within a common plan in committing the crimes provided for in the ICTY Statute. The mildest form of JCE concerns cases in which crimes do not arise from common goal of the JCE but are nevertheless a natural and foreseeable consequence of its realisation.

The accused must voluntarily participate in one aspect of the joint plan which does not necessarily imply that the accused personally committed any acts of the criminal offenses from the Statute but can also be in the form of helping or contributing to the realisation of a common goal.

As far as I am aware, and I think I am informed enough, JCE is a creation of the Tribunal and this concept is not accepted in other criminal justice systems.

JCE, – would not be accepted in the court proceedings of the said States. Judicial systems based on the presumption of innocence and the provisions on the properties that evidence must have, equality of all sides in the proceedings and the requirement of a fair trial would not allow the application of this concept as accepted by the ICTY.

I believe that the reason is in the fact that the criminal responsibility of a criminal association must include evidence of a criminal agreement, the individual responsibility of each member of the criminal association with specific limits of responsibility of all members of the association and their intentions and degree of guilt. All these elements do not matter in JCE.

If the JCE doctrine as accepted by the Hague Tribunal were accepted as the ruling doctrine, the circle of military and political persons, which can be covered by criminal proceedings under international law, would be wide with criminalisation of political decisions or decisions of high military commanders.

Since this is a criminal procedure, the JCE doctrine is not in line with the basic requirement of criminal responsibility, the existence of actus reus and mens rea. Individual criminal responsibility cannot be inferred from generalised allegations. A common criminal purpose, a significant contribution to a common plan or purpose must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The accusation must be based on facts and not on a political decision.

Dr. Miroslav Tudjman writes about the extensive evidence favourable to Croatian defendants that the court rejected in that process. Can you give some examples?

It is true that Dr. Tudjman in his book wrote exhaustively about the rejected documents, that is, only about those documents about the existence or rather the non-existence of JCE, in relation to the documents presented to witnesses, and whose statements he analysed.

The defence pointed to double standards in the admission of evidence throughout the proceedings. The prosecutor introduced the documents obtained from the Croatian State Archives without hindrance and they were accepted by the decision of the panel, while the documents from the same source, when submitted by the defence, were rejected. The majority of the panel adhered to the position of the prosecutor.

Perhaps best of all about General Praljak’s approach to the introduction of defence evidence is the separate opinion of the Trial Chamber President on the decision to accept or not to accept documentary defence evidence.

The President of the Trial Chamber, in his separate opinion, points out that the defence followed the instructions for the introduction of documents, so it is unclear why the prosecutor opposes the introduction of 65% of the proposed documents, especially since the vast majority of documents were obtained from the prosecutor. According to the presiding judge, it is unreasonable for the prosecutor to claim that the documents are inauthentic and unreliable, especially when the prosecutor submitted them to the defence.

With regard to documents relating to the treatment of Muslims, the arming of Muslims and the training of BIH Army members, the President of the Trial Chamber disagrees with the majority’s decision that they are irrelevant. The arguments of the defence that these documents refute the JCE, because the Republic of Croatia assisted BiH in the fight against the common enemy, are acceptable.

General Praljak’s defence proposed 73 documents relating to the fact that the BIH Army had initiated conflicts against the Croatian Defence Council (HVO). Most chambers have decided not to introduce certain documents as evidence because they are geographically outside the scope of the indictment. When all the documents between the prosecutor’s arguments that the HVO attacked the BIH Army and the defence’s arguments that the BIH Army attacked the HVO are added up, these documents are essentially JCE.

The President of the Trial Chamber, when asked how the Chamber will decide on the probative value of the theory of defence if it does not accept defence’s documents, points out in his separate opinion that the rejection of defence’s evidence can be interpreted as one side’s theory already having been accepted.   

Photos of Mostar showing the locations of the sniper’s victims were proposed by the defence to be considered together with the findings of the prosecution expert and related to General Praljak’s questions to the expert witness and witnesses who were hit by the sniper. All in order to determine the position of the sniper and whether it is possible that a shot was fired from the area under the control of the HVO. The photos were rejected by a majority decision.

The approach of the majority in the chambers in the decision to accept the written statements of General Praljak’s defence witnesses is almost identical.

In a separate opinion of the Trial Chamber President on the decision to accept written witness statements under Rule 92, it was noted that the Chamber received the defence’s request on 14 September 2009 and had more than a year to accept the summaries or statements of 155 witnesses.

It took the Trial Chamber more than a year to eventually accept only 4% of the statements, all after General Praljak’s defence had completed its case.

It has been said on many occasions that there were problems with court translators and interpreters in the Hague Tribunal. Some of their mistakes seem astounding. Can you also give a few examples of these errors?

From the very beginning of the process, we pointed out the problem of translations. The official languages ​​of the court were English and French. Ninety percent of the documents referring to the time and events in the indictment were written in Croatian or Serbian. The accused spoke Croatian, the witnesses mostly spoke Croatian. Translation was therefore a key factor in the proceedings.

When it comes to translation, interventions in translation were necessary in the hearing itself at the time of simultaneous translation, in the minutes of the hearing and in the translation of documents into the official language of the court. Court interpreters have shown remarkable effort to translate the spoken words accurately.

In criminal proceedings, it is also important to understand a small nuance of language or slight variations in terminology in order to get a fair and accurate impression of the witness statement. In ICTY trials, where testimonies are translated simultaneously, the panel is often deprived of this important opportunity. During the trial, there were many cases where translations and / or language problems were quite obvious. Despite the best efforts of the translator and the reactions of the defence in the event of some noticeable errors in the translation, minor errors went unnoticed, not to mention some linguistic nuances that could not be properly understood (Example is in this extract from ICTY Transcropts: T. 23108:7 – 23108:17, 3 October 2007, Witness DW:

MR. KOVACIC:  I’m sorry, I apologise but now I recognise the problem.  Judge Trechsel asked me why do I think that the question was capricious?  Because this is the terms as my Croatian was translated.  It was wrongly translated.  I used a term in Croatian “kapciozno” which in our theory includes — which in our theory — which in our theory means leading, because there is a response included in the question.  So this word which is here in translation, capricious, is absolutely wrong. Sorry, Judge.  It’s a misunderstanding on this part.

JUDGE TRECHSEL:  Yes, and I’m very happy.

MR. KOVACIC:  I do think your question was leading.

JUDGE TRECHSEL:  I accept that and I apologise.-

T. 44256:25 – 44257:6, 2 September 2009:

JUDGE ANTONETTI: [Interpretation] Mr. Praljak, let me add something so you can know what my position is.  The difficulty we all have here is that we’re working in several languages, and each language has its own nuances, and sometimes there’s storms in the teacup just because of translation problems.  The words expressed by one person are not necessarily completely translated into another language with all its nuances, and sometimes there could be misinterpretation.)

Written translations required corrections. Because of such problems, the Trial Chamber is sometimes simply unable to fully comprehend some details of testimony or citations that could be critical to a proper assessment of the evidence.

Example: The prosecutor offered General Praljak’s post-war interview as evidence, according to which, according to the prosecutor, the general said that the policy of the Serbs in BiH was closer to the Croats than the Muslim one. Simply, unity is out of the question. He also played a video of the interview at the hearing.

The allegation “Unity is out of the question” does not exist in the original text, nor is it recorded in the minutes of the hearing, but it is stated in the transcript of the video translated into English and submitted as evidence by the prosecutor.

In fact, in the Tribunal, where many lawyers and participants in the proceedings were unable to read or understand the original evidence, the meaning of “reasonable doubt” was not appreciated given the distance from the original evidence.

Another example: The Prosecutor introduced a document on the return of a unit from the H.V. Hrvatinic Brigade as evidence of the involvement of the Republic of Croatia in the armed conflict in BiH and the presence of the Croatian Army (abbreviated as H.V) in BiH. Time was spent proving that H.V. abbreviation in this case was not an abbreviation for the Croatian Army, but the initials of the person after whom the unit was named (Hrvoje Vukcic Hrvatinic).

In relation to translations Dr. Tudjman concludes in his book:

It is time for the methods of forensic linguistics to address the Hague processes. It is to be assumed that the results of these analyses will rather confirm the views of the defence that demanded them, than the beliefs of the Prosecution and the judgments of the judges who considered linguistic and semantic problems to be just a “storm in a glass of water”.

Would you like to add something else about Dr. Miroslav Tudjman’s book or about your conclusions regarding the Hague Tribunal verdict in the case of the “The Herceg Bosna Six”?

I would like to point out, not as crucial but significant indicators, about the understanding of the Trial Chamber or those who wrote the verdict about the area they were making decisions about.

Volume 2 of the judgment, paragraph 5, footnote 7 states “Prozor, which means ‘window’ and is also called Rama, 7 is the entry point from Herzegovina into Central Bosnia.”

In the same Volume 2 of the judgment in paragraph 670. It is stated “The river Neretva flows through Mostar in a north-east direction.”

There is no place for desires and goals in criminal proceedings. Criminal proceedings have the task of establishing the facts and should remain uninfected by political, social or any other influences or motives.

The conclusion regarding the verdict as a whole my words would be the final words of General Praljak on November 29, 2017 at 11:35 AM: Judges, Slobodan Praljak is not a war criminal. I reject your verdict with contempt.

————

„Poaching in the Hague“ is available through AMAZON in both print and Kindle versions.

St. George Society, Dobriše Cesarića 9, 10000 Zagreb, Hrvatska, https://nsf-journal.hr/

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