War Criminal Suicide Highlights Croatian Rejection of ICTY
By MARGARET AVERA | December 29, 2017
Wednesday, November 29th was meant to be the last part of an ongoing International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Yet, judges were forced to shut down proceedings after Slobodan Praljak, a Bosnian Croat General and sentenced war criminal, announced his opposition to the verdict and drank poison. Praljak died a few hours later, after his 20-year sentence had just been upheld.
Praljak's appeal against the verdict was rejected by the judges. He was found guilty of using severely unethical tactics to murder Muslims to create ethnic homogeneity in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In 2013, Praljak and six other Bosnian Croatians leaders, were convicted of persecuting, expelling, and murdering Bosnian Muslims. Under his command, the Croatian Defense Council (HVO) created prison camps and tortured detainees. He is also known for destroying a cultural landmark of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1993, after his forces blew up a 16th-century bridge in Mostar.
The Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic stated that Praljak was “a man who preferred to give his life, rather than to live, having been convicted of crimes he firmly believed he had not committed. His act struck deeply at the heart of the Croatian people and left the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia with the weight of eternal doubt about the accomplishment of its tasks.” This statement by the Croatian President highlights tensions regarding the outcomes of the ICTY. UN prosecutors urged Croatian leaders to accept the legitimacy of the court and take the judicial sentences as facts for the “foundation of reconciliation.” Praljak, and many other Croatians assert that no wrong-doing was committed during the war, despise the ICTY’s ruling. Some Croatian leaders go so far as to argue the court’s findings to be falsehoods, deeming them as unacceptable interpretations.
Praljak was not a martyr; he was a war criminal. His legacy is one of many convictions for crimes against humanity: political, racial, and religious persecution, unlawful transfers and attacks of civilians, unlawful imprisonments and labor; extensive and unlawful destruction of property including religious and educational institutions, and terrorism. Acceptance of the sheer criminality and atrocities committed by those indicted can facilitate the reconciliation process. Reconciliation is vital to support healing in the region.
It must be further acknowledged that Praljak and his peers did attempt to create a homogeneous Croatian region in Bosnia-Herzegovina through the Muslim genocide. Rather than nationalist backlash against the entirety of the ICTY and its rulings, Croatians must accept the sentence passed by the court. Praljak’s sentence was intended for him, not against all of Croatia. The ICTY was created for the exact purpose of exposing the facts of atrocities committed during the breakup of Yugoslavia. Its purpose is to achieve justice and prosecute both war crimes and crimes against humanity. As a means of reconciliation, the ICTY states that punishment should be slated for individuals who commit atrocities, rather than guilt being shared by an entire community. Given the ethnic and regional atrocities, the ICTY’s commitment to impartial justice and emphasis on conflict resolution is extremely important. Thus, it is best for Croatian leaders to accept the verdict and proceed on the path of reconciliation and healing.