Croatia: Luka Misetic Responds As Serb Denials Of Crimes Take New Form

Luka Misetic Photo: Davor Puklavec/PIXSELL

Luka Misetic
Photo: Davor Puklavec/PIXSELL

Well, July was a disquieting month for justice at the UN Security Council. Serbia’s lobby with Russia had resulted in Russia’s veto on the British instigated motion to call the 1995 Srebrenica massacres genocide! And so, the verdicts delivered by the UN Security Council appointed International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) officially became as valuable and as respected as a veto of one member state of the Security Council is worth! Denials can take one far these days, it seems!

In line with the appalling Serb denials of genocide and the horrendous crimes they committed in the aggression against Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina during 1990’s it was to be expected that Croatian Serbs and their wicked supporters were going to stage some outrageous display of denials ahead of the 20th Anniversary of Operation Storm that liberated Croatia from Serb occupation and aggression in August of 1995; just as they did with the 20th commemoration of Srebrenica genocide in July.

And so, it came – the ugly beast of denials, political corruption, lies and attempts to pervert the truth in the form of launching an interactive narrative named “Storm in the Hague” (webpage)! Those responsible for this launch on Friday 31 July 2015 in Zagreb, Croatia, are the Documenta association in Croatia (an organisation supposedly dealing with confronting the truth of history but in reality twists that history to promote bias and lies against Croatia), the Serbian National Council (led by Milorad Pupovac) and, as I and multitudes see it, the ultimately biased and politically corrupt SENSE Agency – Centre for transitional justice.

The ICTY concluded the following: 1.     There was no Joint Criminal Enterprise from the Croatian side.  2.     Krajina Serbs were not deported from Croatia by the Croatian  authorities but left Croatia out of other reasons  not associated with any Croatian officials'  illegal behaviour;  3.     Not only that the Croatian authorities did not permit crimes  against  Serbs and Serbs' property,  but they were actively  against those crimes;    4.   It's confirmed that 20,000 houses were not burned  after Operation Storm. The number is probably closer to 5,000,  and that, in both Sectors, North and South.      5.     The judgment has found that a total of 44 civilians  were killed by the Croatian forces, not 320 as the Prosecution claimed,  not 600 as HHO claimed and  especially not 2,000 as claimed by „Veritas“ i Savo Strbac. 6.     There were no politics of non-investigation of crimes by the Croatian  authorities.  7.     The housing laws after Operation Storm were not  in a collision with the international humanitarian law.

The ICTY concluded the following:
1. There was no Joint Criminal Enterprise from the Croatian side.
2. Krajina Serbs were not deported from Croatia by the Croatian
authorities but left Croatia out of other reasons
not associated with any Croatian officials’
illegal behaviour;
3. Not only that the Croatian authorities did not permit crimes
against
Serbs and Serbs’ property,
but they were actively
against those crimes;
4. It’s confirmed that 20,000 houses were not burned
after Operation Storm. The number is probably closer to 5,000,
and that, in both Sectors, North and South.
5. The judgment has found that a total of 44 civilians
were killed by the Croatian forces, not 320 as the Prosecution claimed,
not 600 as HHO claimed and
especially not 2,000 as claimed by „Veritas“ i Savo Strbac.
6. There were no politics of non-investigation of crimes by the Croatian
authorities.
7. The housing laws after Operation Storm were not
in a collision with the international humanitarian law.

Many in Croatia and abroad consider (rightfully) that the interactive narrative “Storm in the Hague” is an attempt to belittle and nullify the ICTY Appeal Chamber verdict of 16 November 2012 in the case of Croatian Generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, which had found that as far as the Croatian war efforts were concerned there was no Joint Criminal Enterprise, no excessive artillery shelling and no ethnic cleansing of Serbs.

I would think that the saddest thing about this twisting of the final verdict in the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to suit the Serb denials of crimes and their aggression is that the Croatian taxpayers fund to a large extent the work of these organisations that twist the truth

Mr Luka Misetic, Ante Gotovina’s US based defense lawyer at the ICTY trial promptly addressed on his blog and in the Croatian media concerning and disquieting aspects of this launch of the interactive narrative “Storm in the Hague”. I have translated into the English language Mr Misetic’s address and here it is:

 

Today (31st July), in Croatia, there was a SENSE Agency and Serbian National Council launch of the presentation “Storm in the Hague”. As it was to be expected the presentation purposefully covers up that which the Hague Tribunal found in its judgments in the case of Gotovina (Ante Gotovina, Croatian General).

HOW DID THE HAGUE TRIBUNAL ANSWER TO ALL THESE QUESTIONS?
1. Were Serbs deported from Croatia?
2. Did the Croatian authorities purposefully permit crimes such as murders, plunder and arson in order to deny the Serbs the possibility of returning to Croatia?
3. Were there more than 20,000 homes burned after Storm in the Southern part of the liberated territory?
4. Did the Croatian forces kill more than 600 Serbs during and after Operation Storm?
5. Did the Croatian judicial authorities and the police practice the politics of non-investigation of crimes?
6. Have illegally discriminatory housing laws been introduced?
7. Finally, did the Joint Criminal Enterprise exist in Croatia?

1. WERE SERBS DEPORTED FROM CROATIA?

Firstly, we need to correct some misunderstandings regarding the Trial Chamber judgment in which General Gotovina received a 24 year prison sentence. The Tribunal had concluded that Krajina Serbs were deported ONLY from 4 towns: Knin, Benkovac, Obrovac and Gracac. So, only from those four places.

The Tribunal had concluded that Serb civilians from all other places in the so-called Krajina had left Croatia out of other reasons not associated with any illegal treatmen by the Croatian authorities. Those legal reasons for leaving were:
• “Serbian Republic of Krajina” officials had called upon the population to leave the areas (Trial Chamber judgment paragraph 1762);
• The fear of aggression usually associated with armed conflict (Trial Chamber judgment paragraph 1762);
• Generalised fear from the Croatian forces and disstrust in Croatian authorities (Trial Chamber judgment paragraph 1762); and
• The fact that other Serbs were leaving had caused the effect of some civilians deciding to leave with them (Trial Chamber judgment paragraph 1754, 1762).

Hence, the Hague Tribunal had even in its Trial Chamber judgment found that a huge majority of Serb population from the so-called Krajina had left Croatia out of its own reasons, and that the Croatian authorities were not responsible for that. Only the four said towns were questionable for the Trial Chamber.
2. DID THE CROATIAN AUTHORITIES PERMIT CRIMES:

The Trial Chamber had explicitly rejected the claims that the Croatian authorities had purposefully permitted crimes such as arson, plunder and killings in order to deny the Serbs the possibility of return:

2321. The Trial Chamber found that the common objective of the so-called Criminal enterprise did not amount to, or involve the commission of the crimes of persecution (disappearances of people, wanton destruction, plunder, murder, inhumane acts, cruel treatment, and unlawful detentions), destruction of property, plunder, murder, inhumane acts, and cruel treatment.

Moreover, the Court tribunal did not only find that Croatia did not permit such crimes, but it also found that the Croatian leadership had actively opposed the perpetration of such criminal acts:

2313. However, the evidence, in particular the statements made at meetings and in public reviewed in chapters 6.2.2-6.2.5, does not
indicate that members of the Croatian political and military leadership intended that property inhabited or owned by Krajina Serbs should be destroyed or plundered. Further, it does not indicate that these acts were initiated or supported by members of the leadership. Rather, the evidence includes several examples of meetings and statements (see for example D409, P470, and D1451), indicating that the leadership, including Tudjman, disapproved of the destruction of property. Based on the foregoing, the Trial Chamber does not find that destruction and plunder were within the purpose of the joint criminal enterprise.

3. Were 20,000 homes burned in the South Sector?

This claim was thoroughly discredited at the hearing. This hypothesis, which has constantly been repeated in the past 15 years, is based upon wrong claims made in the 1999 report by the HHO (Croatian Helsinki Committee) on Operation Storm in which HHO claimed that the Canadian General Alain Forand, UN forces chief commander based in Knin, stated that 22,000 houses were burned in the South Sector. The reality is that Forand stated that a total of 22,000 houses in South Sector were inspected, and not that they were burned. The truth regarding the number of burned houses in the liberated area is most likely closer to the report by the UN General Secretary in December 1995: about 5,000 of houses and stables in Sectors North and South were burned after Operation Storm.
4. Did the Croatian forces kill 600 civilians during and after Operation Storm?

This also is a usual claim perpetuated all the time in the media. However, the Prosecution had claimed that about 320 civilians were killed in Sector South, and not 600. The Trial Chamber had found that out of these 320, 44 were killed by members of the Croatian armed forces. The number of Serb civilians killed by Croatian forces is closer to 44 than 600.

5. Did the Croatian judicial authorities and police practice the politics of non-investigation of crimes?

The Court Tribunal had rejected this allegation, which is being repeated in the media all the time, even today, and, after the Appeal decision. In paragraph 2203 of its judgment the Trial Chamber found the following:

The evidence reviewed indicates that some investigatory efforts were made, but with relatively few results. Moreover, there are
indications in the evidence that at the political level, these efforts were motivated at least in part by a concern for Croatia’s international standing rather than by genuine concern for victims. In light of the testimony of expert Albiston, the Trial Chamber considers that the insufficient response by the Croatian law enforcement authorities and judiciary can to some extent be explained by the abovementioned obstacles they faced and their need to perform other duties in August and September 1995. In conclusion, while the evidence indicates incidents of purposeful hindrance of certain investigations, the Trial Chamber cannot positively establish that the Croatian authorities had a policy of non-investigation of crimes committed against Krajina Serbs during and following Operation Storm in the Indictment area.
These are the main findings of the Trial Chamber. As we all know, some parts of this judgment have remained disputable given that General Gotovina was sentenced to 24 years (and General Markac to 18) due to Trial Chamber’s conclusion that General Gotovina had executed illegal artillery attacks against the towns of Knin, Benkovac, Obrovac and Gracac.

That’s why we needed to wait for the final verdict by the Appeals Chamber regarding the disputed matters left from the Trial Chamber judgment, and that final judgment arrived on 16 November 2012. (Acquitting the Croatian generals of all charges).

Appeals Chamber verdict

6 and 7. Joint Criminal Enterprise and housing laws

There was no Joint Criminal Enterprise on the Croatian side. The Appeal Chamber had quashed Trial Chamber judgment on that count, concluding that the Krajina Serbs were not deported from Knin, Benkovac, Obrovac and Gracac, and with that, the Croatian authorities did not deport the Krajina Serbs nor did the Joint Criminal Enterprise involving the Croatian leadership, especially Franjo Tudjman, Gojko Susak, Zvonimir Cervenko, Ante Gotovina, Jure Radic and Mladen Markac – exist.

Furthermore, after the Appeal Chamber verdict, it can be concluded that the Croatian leadership did not pass discriminatory housing laws after Operation Storm (see firstly the Government regulation and then the Temporary assumption and administration of certain property Act/Government Gazette NN 073/1995). That is, the Trial Chamber had found that those housing laws were in breach of the international law as they were introduced after the Serbs from Knin, Benkovac, Obrovac and Gracac were deported from Croatia. However, given that the Appeals Chamber had quashed the finding that the Serbs were displaced, that is deported, the conclusion that housing laws passed after Operation Storm were in contravention of the international humanitarian law must also be quashed.

 

Croatia's Capital Zagreb  Prepares For The 20 Anniversary Of Operation Storm and Liberation From Serb Occupation Military Parade and Celebrations of Independence to be held 4th August 2015 Photo: FAH

Croatia’s Capital Zagreb
Prepares For The 20 Anniversary
Of Operation Storm and
Liberation From Serb Occupation
Military Parade and Celebrations of Independence
to be held 4th August 2015
Photo: FAH

 

TO SUMMARISE

The ICTY concluded the following:

1. There was no Joint Criminal Enterprise from the Croatian side.

2. Krajina Serbs were not deported from Croatia by the Croatian authorities but left Croatia out of other reasons not associated with any Croatian officials’ illegal behaviour;

3. Not only that the Croatian authorities did not permit crimes against Serbs and Serbs’ property, but they were actively against those crimes;

4. It’s confirmed that 20,000 houses were not burned after Operation Storm. The number is probably closer to 5,000, and that, in both Sectors, North and South.

5. The judgment has found that a total of 44 civilians were killed by the Croatian forces, not 320 as the Prosecution claimed, not 600 as HHO claimed and especially not 2,000 as claimed by „Veritas“ i Savo Strbac.

6. There were no politics of non-investigation of crimes by the Croatian authorities.

7. The housing laws after Operation Storm were not in a collision with the international humanitarian law.”

Written and Translated from the Croatian language by Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb), B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Croatia Vs Serbia At ICJ – Serbia Dodging Responsibility For Genocide

International Court of Justice, the Hague

International Court of Justice, the Hague

In presenting Croatia’s case against Serbia at the ICJ for genocide committed in Croatia during 1990’s the Croatian legal team had detailed gruesome atrocities committed against hundreds of towns and villages in Croatia. It put forth as evidence the great multitudes brutally killed, tortured, subjected to sexual abuse, locked into concentration camps, forcefully expelled from their homes in the campaigns of ethnically cleansing non-Serbs from all areas Serbs had aggressively declared as their own even though these were within the internationally recognized sovereign borders of Croatia. The relentless rhythm of death and destruction over a relatively short period of time, orchestrated from Serbia’s capital Belgrade as the headquarters of the Yugoslav People’s Army, Serbia took over as the former Yugoslavia disintegrated amidst individual states seeking to secede (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Macedonia) became very clear in the courtroom and anyone who has had the audacity to call this lawsuit unnecessary and bound for dismissal – and there have sadly been plenty of those in the media – must have pulled back and re-examined their conscience in both human and legal terms. Or, at least, I hope they did!

Croatia’s legal team said to the court that proof of genocide was not only the actual genocide or a high number of victims and that it was enough to prove genocidal intent which, together with concrete crimes, made it the gravest crime under international law.

The extent and pattern of the crimes, the words spoken and the racist propaganda confirm beyond any doubt Serbia’s genocidal intent to destroy Croats in areas that, to Serbs’ plan, were to have become part of a Greater Serbia, the Croatian lawyers submitted.

Serbia’s legal team said that Serbs are victims of genocide in Croatia emphasising the August 1995 Operation Storm (Croatian military action to liberate Serb-occupied Croatian territory) when more than 200,000 Serbs fled Croatia. The fact that the ICTY it its acquittal of Croatian Generals, November 2012, stated that there was no forced deportation of Serbs from Croatia around the said Operation Storm did not seem to have bothered Serbia’s legal team at ICJ.  Serbia’s legal team said that the war in Croatia caused major sufferings for Serbs who, faced with the separatist ideas of the then Croatian top government, decided to set up their own national entity known as the Republic of Serb Krajina (RSK).

So Serbia’s legal team is now labeling the 94% of Croatian voting population as “separatists” because they voted for democracy, they voted to secede from communist Yugoslavia, while the Serb minority there did not!

Furthermore, Serbia’s legal team likened the July 1995 meeting of Croatia’s government and military leadership at which Operation Storm was being planned in Brioni to that of the meeting held in 1942 at which the Nazi’s delivered the decision about the destruction of the Jews!  Croatia’s legal representative Phillipe Sands had, in no uncertain terms, asked Serbia’s team to withdraw this statement at its next appearance.

The Croatian legal team has accused Serbia of falsifying evidence including the fabrication of victims carried out by Serb NGO “Veritas” – in simple words it accused Serbia of lying. No one has ever been convicted in any court for the genocide that Serbia’s legal team claim was committed against Serbs (Operation Storm) and which they say represents the worst case of genocide since WWII and yet the international criminal court ICTY had spent many years, if not a full decade, analysing and deliberating on Operation Storm only to come up with the finding that no crimes had been committed as part of Operation Storm by Croats.

Serbia’s legal team went so far as to suggest that Croatia is the state that arose from WWII Nazi-puppet state in which multitude of Serbs were killed! They went so far as to try and make the world believe that the period of 1945 to 1991 did not happen for Croatia! Sorry, Serbia’s legal team, but Croatia of today arose out of former Yugoslavia and not out of any WWII state.

Serbia’s lawyers also argued that the authorities in Belgrade (Serbia) could not be called to account for crimes committed in Croatia before the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY/Serbia + Montenegro) was established in April 1992!

Before the proclamation of the new state Belgrade was not a member of the Genocide Convention which therefore cannot apply to the crimes during the 1991 war in Croatia, Serbia’s team argued!

Well, well, well! Serbia took over the former Yugoslav Army, Serbia’s people acted on behalf of Serbia’s political aims to secure parts of Croatia where Serbs lived in relative ethnic majority … the date of the actual establishment of FRY is really not important. It’s more than clear that Serbia would now like to think of itself as the heir of former Yugoslavia in everything except the crimes it planned and committed in the name of that failing Yugoslavia!

So, it’s then as Serbia’s legal team put it: The Croatian argument of genocide, which Croatia’s team says was committed against Croats in 1991, is basically an application to the court to apply the genocide convention retroactively against the Serbian authorities, despite the fact that they didn’t sign the convention at the time.

Some will argue that a retroactive application of the convention is not allowed, but these appear to me as mere agents of Greater Serbia who would like to muddy the waters and try to convince the ICJ that 1946 – 1991 did not happen for Serbia, either!

As it happens the truth is that the former Yugoslavia (Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) signed the Genocide Convention on 11 December 1948! And Serbia who insisted on keeping that Yugoslavia, mounting aggression against Croatia via the Yugoslav People’s Army, was to my view obligated in observing all international conventions former Yugoslavia was a signatory to!

Indeed at the time of the proclamation of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) on 27 April 1992, a formal declaration was adopted on its behalf to the effect that
“The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, continuing the State, international legal and political personality of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, shall strictly abide by all the commitments that the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia assumed internationally”!

How Serbia’s legal team can now argue in the ICJ that “all the crimes” included in Croatia’s charges “were committed before Serbia was bound by the Convention.”

It is as clear as day: Serbia has not, does not nor is it likely to admit to its crimes – unless it is made to do so through an ICJ ruling that points to its responsibility.

The Convention (on genocide) was adopted to protect human dignity and not for states to avoid responsibility, said Croatia’s counsel Phillipe Sands, a British professor.

Croatia has on Friday 21 March sought that ICJ finds Serbia guilty of genocide, that Serbia brings perpetrators of war crimes to account (especially its officers of the Yugoslav People’s Army), that Serbia hands over the details of those still missing from the war in Croatia, that Serbia returns the cultural wealth stolen from Croatia during the war, that Serbia pays for war damage caused to the sum set by the court. The Croatian legal team submitted that the ICJ judgment will have exceptional importance for Croatian people but also for peace and stability in the region and that this was an invitation to uncover the Greater Serbia ultra-nationalism for what it really is – a criminal project for the creation of Greater Serbia through theft and ethnic cleansing in Croatia and the neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Croatia has moved forward, it’s a member of the EU, it has democratic institutions and high level protection of minority rights. Serbia also wants that but it will be difficult for it to achieve this as long as it continues avoiding its responsibility,” said Vesna Crnic Grotic, leader of Croatia’s legal team at ICJ.

Indeed, this case is so very important for the region but above all, for humanity and human dignity. Dodging ones responsibility for horrendous crimes against humanity, for genocide, cannot, must not be permitted in the face of such overwhelming evidence. If ICJ fails to accept the reality and fact that Serbia was at the time the body, hands and mind of former Yugoslavia, which was a signatory to the Convention on Genocide, then the whole of humanity will indeed suffer and the future be left to legal technicalities whose only aim is to absolve the criminals of their crimes if political currents seek it.  Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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