Croatia: To Claim Back Justice Sold Via Giving Amnesty To Serb War Criminals

Nikola Kajkic Photo:

In any global or international community agenda small countries suffer and are left to their own devices to live with consequences that are often harsh, that more often than not, mean that someone ends up with their human rights brutally violated.

On the point of global pressure where someone ends up a victim of human rights usurpation, I am transported back to Croatia 1997/1998 when, highly pressured by the international powers (in particular the European Union and Bill Clinton’s or Democrats’ America) to make deals in the process of reintegrating (liberating) the remaining parts of Croatia occupied by the brutal and murderous Serb aggressor. The deal included the granting of amnesty to hundreds of Serbs from prosecution for suspected and evidenced war crimes committed against Croatian people. And so, the Croatian authorities at the time caved into this pressure in which the international community was insisting that Serbs’ human rights must be protected, that they must be allowed to live without fear of prosecution or retribution if they returned to Croatia (most of these war criminals had already fled Croatia into Serbia)! The human rights of Croatian victims of Serb aggression, of war crimes, were not as important.


Some twenty years later, today, the situation Croatia is faced with is that Serb war criminals or suspected war criminals are moving freely, living in Croatia, among their victims! Protected! So, it is not unusual to come across in Vukovar, for instance, Serb rapists, murderers, torturers who have returned to live in that area. Of course, whether on justice or humanity’s level, this is not acceptable! This naturally causes perpetual protests and distress on the side of Croats. And what does Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic do? He takes Croatian Serb leaders who in Croatia chase after Serbia’s interests rather than Croatia’s, Milorad Pupovac, Boris Milosevic (and others), whose brothers, sisters etc are among those brutal Serb aggressors from 1990’s, as coalition partners in government! Talk about rubbing salt on open wounds!

For the duration of Pupovac being a part of Plenkovic government Nikola Kajkic, an investigating officer with Croatian Police Unit for War Crimes, was suspended from duties in July 2018 just as his investigation into executions by Serbia’s forces at Ovcara farm (Vukovar, November 1991) was showing up irrefutable evidence for war crimes for several Serb nationals (some of whom live in Vukovar or nearby!)! He is still fighting the bent courts to get his job back; he remains unemployed and a sore in the Serb and Croatian government eyes. Kajkic courageously continues (via various independent media outlets) to bring out various concrete details and names of Serbs, who now live in Vukovar or elsewhere in Croatia, who had murdered, raped or tortured Croatian people during the Serb aggression against Croatia in the 1990’s.

As to an impending global “Great Reset” lots of people are talking about these days Croatian government and authorities need a great morality and justice reset and start paying priority attention to the victims of Serb war crimes. It is evident, twenty years on, that the 1997/1998 grant of amnesty to Serb war criminals is reaping havoc and unbearable distress and injustice in Croatia. So, let’s revisit how this tragic move to grant amnesty to war criminals came about and gave licence to Serb torturers, rapists and murderers to roam the streets of Croatia today under the protection of the internationally (including Serbia) weaved pressures and tricks.

Since the hostilities resulting from Serb aggression in 1991, the Ministry of Justice of the Croatian government had maintained lists of suspected Serb war criminals, numbering as many as 3,000 at one point. These official lists had frequently been criticised by the international community pushing for amnesty of Serb war criminals in Croatia for inaccuracies and uncertainties. In February 1997, a Vinkovci newspaper published a list of suspected war criminals including 1,200 names. At the same time, pressured by international forces who, under a pretence it wanted to achieve peace, obviously favoured the aggressor more than the victim, the Croatian government had passed several laws granting amnesty for those who engaged in certain acts relating to the war in 1991 and thereafter. The laws granted amnesties to all those who committed “criminal acts during the aggression, armed rebellion or armed conflicts, in or relating to the aggression, armed rebellion or armed conflicts in the Republic of Croatia . . .  during the period from 17 August 1990 to 23 August 1996” (Law of General Amnesty). The law expressly excluded those who had committed “flagrant violations of humanitarian law having the character of war crimes.” The passage of the law was followed by the circulation of a list of ninety-six persons who were then in detention on charges of armed rebellion.

After promulgation of the amnesty law, the Croatian government continued to retain a list of 311 Serb war crimes suspects. This list was criticised for inaccuracies and errors by the Serbian side, saying some of the named were already dead.(So what, posthumous trials are not a thing of impossibility) The existence of this list of war crimes suspects had not been embraced by the Serb Executive Council (the assembly of the Eastern Slavonia Serb leadership) and on the minds of many Serbs in Eastern Slavonia who contemplated decisions as to whether to remain in Croatia. As a result, Transitional Administrator Jacques Paul Klein requested the Croatian government to produce a smaller list, with those who are not on the list being de facto amnestied. In March 1997, Mr. Klein received a new list of 150 names which he passed on to the Serb Executive Council, which, in turn, notified those on the list. This list contained the names of those who have been convicted in absentia for crimes against international humanitarian law, those who had been indicted for such crimes, and those who were otherwise suspected of having committed such crimes.  (“Amnesty,” UNTAES Bulletin, No. 28, March 1997)

The negotiations over the lists and amnesty laws raised several fundamental human rights concerns. First, throughout negotiation over the size of the list, it was claimed that the standards for inclusion on the war crimes list were not made clear. Even after the list had been given to Mr. Klein, the grounds for inclusion on the list allegedly remained unclear, especially for those who have not already been indicted or tried in absentia. So claimed the international community involved in pressuring Croatia for amnesty of Serbs. The same international community insisted that an effective safeguard would be for Croatia to refer war crimes indictments to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for prior review.

But what does one do when one knew and now knows that ICTY’s crimes indictments were often political rather than based on clear evidence! One would insist on protecting one’s own people – victims of crimes that were seen on daily basis against Croatian civilians and armed forces.  

UNTAES’s (UN Transitional Administration of Eastern Slavonic, in Croatia) insistence that the government of Croatia provide a “final” list of suspects also raised serious human rights concerns for Serb aggressor, evidently diminishing the importance of Croatian victim human rights. “Now, we have asked the Croatian Government for a final list very soon and before the elections. The list should have those names who, we believe, would possibly be indicted by the War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague if there was enough evidence. By that definition, everyone else is automatically amnestied,” said Mr Klein in “Elections announced for 13 April: an interview with TA Jacques Klein,” UNTAES Bulletin, No. 25, February 1997.

If those who commit war crimes are to be held accountable for their crimes, it is unclear in what sense any list of suspects provided by the Croatian government could have been considered final. If sound legal principles were to govern the indictment and trial of suspected war criminals, the Croatian government should have indicted those against whom sufficient evidence of such crimes was gathered, regardless of whether this evidence came to light before or after a “final” list was prepared. Indeed, several Croats, including relatives of those who were killed or “disappeared” during and after the siege of Vukovar told Human Rights Watch/Helsinki of their discomfort over what they perceived to be “private” negotiations between UNTAES and the Croatian government regarding the length of the list of suspects. They feared such negotiations might result in the removal of war crimes suspects from the list, as a matter of political expediency, rather than through a judicial process that would have determined the absence of an evidentiary basis for prosecution (Human Rights Watch/Helsinki interviews, Zagreb, February 23, 1997).

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki recognised that the list of suspected war criminals had powerful political force: it said that it intimidated Serbs in Eastern Slavonia while appeasing Croats who have lost family members in that region. Given the political nature of the list, UNTAES may have felt compelled, as the administrative body of the region, to address it in a political context. However, entering into (or appearing to enter into) negotiations over who will or will not be prosecuted for war crimes, politicises a process that should be subjected solely to legal considerations. These negotiations ran the risk of compromising not only UNTAES’s credibility but also the legitimacy of any future proceedings against suspects, as there will be suspicions that some Serbs were dropped as suspects in a political “deal” engineered by UNTAES. At the least, the controversy and negotiations over the number of names on the list has distracted attention from the fundamental rights to due process and fair trial.

The list, in the meanwhile, continued to raise more questions than it answered. Only in early March 1997 did it become clear that the list comprised only those who faced indictments in the courts of Osijek and Vinkovci. As a result, Serbs who perpetrated crimes in Eastern Slavonia who were not included on the “final” list were still faced with the possibility of indictment on charges relating to serious violations of humanitarian law for acts carried out in other jurisdictions, such as those of Knin and Sisak.

The temptation to suspend justice in exchange for promises to end a conflict had arisen with respect to the international community pressures work in Darfur, Uganda and in Croatia in 1997/1998, and threatened to recur elsewhere as parties and mediators struggle to negotiate peace deals. Indeed, to get parties to the table, blanket amnesties have often in the past been offered to those responsible for horrific human rights abuses. Supporters of amnesties argued that those bearing the greatest responsibility for atrocities have no interest in laying down their arms unless they believe that they will not face criminal charges. Others have argued that while justice is important, it should take a back seat to peace!

In the short-term, it is easy to understand the temptation to forego justice in an effort to end armed conflict. However, Human Rights Watch research over the past 20 years in many different countries has demonstrated that a decision to ignore atrocities and to reinforce a culture of impunity may carry a high price. While there are undoubtedly many factors that influence the resumption of armed conflict, and it is not asserted that impunity is the sole causal factor, Human Rights Watch research shows that the impact of justice is too often undervalued when weighing objectives in resolving a conflict.

Foregoing accountability, on the other hand, often does not result in the hoped-for benefits. Instead of putting a conflict to rest, an explicit de jure amnesty that grants immunity for war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide may effectively sanction the commission of grave crimes without providing the desired objective of peace. All too often a peace that is conditioned on impunity for these most serious crimes is not sustainable. Even worse, it sets a precedent of impunity for atrocities that encourages future abuses.

In Croatia, for example, amnesty provisions failed to consolidate the hoped-for peace, that is, amnesties did not lead to the called for “forgiving and forgetting.” Serbia still denies aggression against Croatia, Croatia is helping it in attempts to equate victims with aggressors, while Croatian people are increasingly angry at this injustice. The so-called peaceful reintegration of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Syrmia (1995-1998) that rested upon amnesty given to Serb war criminals is anything but peaceful, for a great majority of Croatian people. It has kept the terrible wounds of Serb aggression wide open.

And so, twenty years on the Serb fight to protect their war criminals in Croatia from prosecution is still a current and pressing issue acting against the victims’ rights. Cover ups, suspensions from duties such as the one experienced by Nikola Kajkic are encouraged by the government that has as its Deputy Premier Boris Milosevic, a hard-core politician actively pursuing the interests of Serbia rather than Croatia on Croatian soil. Of course, Milorad Pupovac is his main ally and, it seems, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and the remainder of his cherry-picked team! With them, Croatian national interests of defending the values of Homeland War and its victims have been lost, or rather, tossed away while wounds are still unhealed. Is this not a ground for a “Great Reset” in Croatia, starting with ditching the General Amnesty laws that protect criminals and aggressors? Justice has been short-changed in Croatia, thanks to international community pressure, it is time Croats started to look inside their country’s borders rather than outside if peace with justice is to prevail. Otherwise, fuelling fears for escalated unrest remain justified. Ina Vukic

Croatia: Open Sesame – Peaceful Reintegration Of Eastern Slavonia

Franjo Tudjman in liberated Vukovar 8 June 1997

Franjo Tudjman in liberated Vukovar 8 June 1997

In January of 1998, the area known as Eastern Slavonia was restored to full Croatian authority after an arduous two-year process. The successful conclusion to the peaceful reintegration of Eastern Slavonia represents a major achievement for Croatia, US diplomacy, and the UN member states who contributed troops to the reintegration efforts.

During these two years, Croatia’s first President, dr Franjo Tudjman, said in liberated Vukovar on 8 June 1997:
The victor who does not know how to forgive sows new seeds of war and evil. And the Croatian people do not want that, just as they did not want all the suffering that has happened. Let the coexistence of Croats with the Serbian and other ethnic minority communities live on … and the one and only eternal Croatia!

On January 15, 2013 we celebrated the 15th Anniversary of this mammoth effort to achieve sustainable peace in this area of Croatian territory. At about the same time as these celebrations, the Croatian government has announced (beginning of January 2013) that it will speed up measures to introduce Cyrillic writing (Serbian) alongside Latin writing (Croatian) on public signs in Vukovar because, they say, there are just over 1/3 of the population of Serbs there. Whether there really are 1/3 of Serbs there or not is a question that must be asked given that Croatian past census processes leave much to be desired when it comes to separating the number of people actually residing at an address from those who have merely registered themselves as living at an address but actually live elsewhere, indeed, in many case in another country! The government’s announcement regarding introducing Cyrillic writing in Vukovar has stirred a great deal of uneasiness, controversy, protest and even questioning by some the very Constitutional law, which according to them does not seem to be on par with the European standards when it comes to minorities and what the right to freedom of minority language use actually means. This is a topic that’s gaining more and more momentum by the day, in Croatia – and is sure to ruffle many current Cock-a-doodle-doo coalition government feathers and involve lots of political debates. I do hope though, that the Croatian government of today does know what ethnic minority right to freely use its own language means: it does not mean that public signs must be bi-lingual, or tri-lingual etc. There’s everything to be said for true sovereignty – including that in many countries of the free world one can hear multitudes of languages spoken or written in the streets, among the free crowds, but the street signs are written in only one language – the official one of that country. The times will show on many issues of multiethnic community whether the Peaceful Reintegration of Eastern Slavonia where significant accent was placed upon coexistence of multiple ethnic groups – one of which was a murderous aggressor against the others – was an Open Sesame, a successful, way of achieving true success in the goal of creating multiethnic communities, all of which in essence should comply with the laws of sovereign Croatia. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

At this time when the Croatian government is, with its announcement to introduce Cyrillic writing on public signs in Vukovar, stirring much of the still-grieving Croatian public to bitterness, it is most opportune to remind it how dr Franjo Tudjman’s leadership achieved peace in an area where peace was nowhere in sight, and bloodshed and aggression everywhere. Hence, the following article:

Peaceful Reintegration of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium

By: Vesna Skare-Ozbolt

Peaceful reintegration of the Podunavlje region was the most successful peace project of the United Nations and the Croatian government. In spite of numerous obstacles which both the representatives of the UN and the Croatian government faced during the implementation of peaceful reintegration, on  15 January 1998 the Podunavlje region was returned into the constitutional and legal system of the Republic of Croatia without a single bullet being shot.

After the representatives of the Croatian government, of local Serb leaders and of government of Socialistic Republic of Yugoslavia (i.e. Serbia and Montenegro) signed the Erdut agreement on 12 November 1995 and the Security Council adopted resolution 1037(1996) thus creating the United Nations Transitional Administration for Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium (UNTAES) the process of return of the Podunavlje region under Croatian authority had begun. Although the phrase „peaceful reintegration „was accepted in the then political discourse, for those who lived and worked in the occupied region as well as for those actively engaged by the Croatian government in its implementation, peaceful reintegration was all but peaceful:

working often at gun point, along with constant obstructions and blackmailing by the local Serbs authorities was a tough reality.

Many Croats still regret that the region was not liberated by military action; therefore it is worth reminding why President Dr. Franjo Tudjman opted for negotiations.

As per the assessment of strategic experts the military action planned under the name „The Vukovar Pigeon“, the Podunavlje region could have been freed in several days even if Serbia’s weakened army would have entered the battle; namely, they were engaged in preserving the captured territory in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the mobilization rate was low. But, when Tudjman was informed that the potential human loss was calculated at 1500 – and that was conservative assessment – he decided to avoid war at any cost, justifying his decision with just a few words: „ to me, every life counts, be it Croatian or Serbian.“ International community knew that the Croatian forces were ready, waiting for their Supreme Commander’s signal, they were also aware that the outcome of the Dayton negotiations depended on Tudjman only. And President Tudjman was aware that any military action undertaken by the HV (Croatian Army) would jeopardize the American peaceful initiative and Dayton success. And he did not want to risk the ending of war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. On his side, Slobodan Milosevic, realizing that he had lost the battle on the negotiation table, sent a message to the local Serb government in Podunavlje to start negotiations with the Croatian authorities.

In January 1996 some 150,000 people lived in the region, of which 85 % Serbs and barely 8 % Croats. Already, given the success of the military operation „Storm“, the local Serb authorities in the Podunavlje region were completely disoriented, the Serbian media published titles such as “Dairy of Crime: Pavelic started, Tudjman finished” in order to stir panic among local Serbs, the discontent of thousands Croatian refugees who lived in poor conditions in sports halls and devastated hotels at the Adriatic coast was growing, and Croatian public, revolted by the inefficiency of the UN demanded their departure. In such circumstances, peaceful reintegration seemed to be an impossible mission.

During the two years, the Croatian negotiators held hundreds of meetings with local Serb authorities as well as with local Serb citizens. It was really not easy to put up with primitivism and provocations by some of the local Serb leaders. What gave us strength to persevere were contacts with ordinary local Serbs as many were telling us that they did not think as their leaders did, that they only wanted peace, but were afraid to stand up loudly in order to avoid problems. In spite of constant threats and pressure by their leaders, it was the ordinary Serbs who gradually made first steps towards coexistence as they were becoming aware that for the normalization of relations the process of reintegration into Republic of Croatia was inevitable.

Peaceful reintegration produced many positive results:

•    A new refugee crisis was avoided and the attempt of the local Serb authorities to present to the international community a voluntary departure of Serb families as a „tacit exodus“, which would then be qualified (by them) as „ethnic cleansing“ perpetrated by Croats, did not succeed;
•    Demilitarization, disarmament and demobilization of military and paramilitary forces and weapons buy-back programme were carried out;
•    The return of those who wished to return to their homes was completed with the return process accelerated after the completion of the mission;
•    Law on Convalidation adopted in 1997 confirmed certain legal affairs and acts of the so-called Republic of Krajina which were not deemed legal before;
•    Agreement on the Normalization of Relations between Croatia and Yugoslavia was signed on 23 August 1996;
•    Local elections were held on 13 and 14 April 1997, simultaneously with elections throughout Croatia and from that day the Podunavlje region was fully integrated in the Croatian legal system;
•    In line with the Croatian Constitution representatives of Serb minority were elected in local, regional and national government bodies.

Perhaps the most of the controversies raised among the Croat public was the adoption of Law on Amnesty (in 1992 and 1996) by which all those who committed criminal acts in connection with armed conflict, except for war crimes, were granted amnesty. No doubt, a certain number of potential criminals from that region escaped criminal prosecution, largely due to insufficient documentation or their unavailability. This is something that is most painful for Croats living in the region. However, as there is no statute of limitation for war crimes and investigations are ongoing.

Peaceful reintegration was completed successfully, partly due to President Tudjman’s  insistence that an American official head the mission, as he deemed that they are sufficiently „pragmatic and efficient.“ The American general Jacques Paul Klein, appointed as UNTAES Transitional Administrator, was exactly of that breed: determined, realistic and not very keen of diplomacy, so much so that at his first meeting with local Serbs leaders he addressed them with these words: „You rebelled, played your cards and lost. Now, if you won’t help me, I’ll leave and let the Croats finish the job. There is no third option!

While peaceful reintegration was not adequately valorised in Croatia, the UN officials and the international community evaluated it as “a positive precedent for restoration of peace throughout the former Yugoslavia but also for future missions in the world”.  Croatia is the first country ever to end the war, practically from the very ending of military actions, in a peaceful way, thus paving the way to achieve a perhaps greater civilization and multicultural potential than many of the EU member states. And last but not least, peaceful reintegration process generated skilful peace mediators which is a worthy human capital for future armed conflicts in the world. Considering all the above, we can say that peaceful reintegration is the most valuable Croatian brand.

“For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill”. (Sun Tzu)

Vesna Skare-Ozbolt

Vesna Skare-Ozbolt

About Vesna Škare-Ožbolt: she was a legal advisor of the late President Franjo Tuđman for ten years and the former Minister of Justice of the Republic of Croatia (2003 – 2006). She is also President of Democratic Centre, the party in coalition with HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union).
In the late 1990s she handled the sensitive negotiations leading to a peaceful return of Serb-occupied areas of Eastern Slavonia (including Vukovar) to Croatian sovereigntyShe is the current President of the Democratic Centre Party in Croatia.


Croatia, the War, and the Future’s addendum:

Click this link for Brief Summary on PEACEFUL REINTEGRATION OF



•    About US$1.6 Million of Croatia’s money (at the time when it was struggling to sustain the lives of hundreds of thousands of Croatian and non-Serb refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina) had to be forked out to pay for weapons buyback  – that is, purchase the weapons owned privately by Serb rebels!

•    On 3 December 1996, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and close aides visited the UNTAES mandate area. He reaffirmed his desire for Serbs to stay in Croatia with guarantees of human rights and fundamental freedoms and called for the marginalization of extremists on both sides. Most significantly, he adopted the suggestion of the Transitional Administrator to pay old-age pensions to the 20,000 pensioners as a good-will gesture for the 1997 new year period.

•    On 8 August 1996, the signing of the Agreement on Interim Co-Financing of Public Services on the Territory Administered by UNTAES, By The Government Of the Republic Of Croatia provided that Croatia would pay 4,500 000 Kuna (about US$850,660.00) for the regular monthly co-financing of public services in the area administered by UNTAES. These public services include health and social welfare, education, police, administration, operating costs and related administrative expenses.
•    Only Serbs really know how much petrol, gas etc. Arkan’s (Zeljko Raznjatovic – Arkan) Serb para-military occupying forces in Eastern Slavonia had stolen from Deletovci (near Vukovar) oil fields during the five year occupation. Figures say that Serbs took more than 100,000 Tons of crude oil from these fields per year of occupation and carted it off to Pancevo refinery (Serbia).
•    What about the endless wagons of timber Serbs stole from Croatian forests, carting it off to Serbia during the five years of occupying, ethnically cleansing Easter Slavonia!?

And the list goes on …

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