Ante Gotovina, Ivan Čermak, and Mladen Markač were in Courtroom I at the ICTY today, to hear the long awaited judgment in their trial for crimes committed against the Serb population of the Krajina region in Croatia in 1995. Judge Orie, presiding, delivered the judgment in a trial which has lasted over three years and involved the testimony of 145 witnesses.
Joint criminal enterprise
According to the Prosecution, the joint criminal enterprise that the three particiapted in involved crimes of persecution, deportation and forcible transfer, plunder, and destruction, which took place during "Operation Storm", a three-month military offensive in the Krajina region in 1995. In assessing whether there was a joint criminal enterprise, the Chamber considered the decisions made at a meeting in Brioni on 31 July 1995, a few days before the launching of "Operation Storm".
At this meeting, the President and several high-ranking military officials met to discuss "Operation Storm". The Chamber found that the attendees of this meeting discussed the importance of the Krajina Serbs leaving as part of the imminent attack, and shared the common objective of permanently removing the Serb civilian population from Krajina by force or by threat of force. The Chamber found that Gotovina and Markač had participated at this meeting and had contributed to the planning and preparation of "Operation Storm" as a member of the joint criminal enterprise.
In reaching its conclusions, the Chamber found that the shelling of the towns of Benkovac, Knin, and Obrovac on 4 and 5 August 1995, which were ordered by Gotovina (left), constituted unlawful attacks on civilians and civilian objects. Markač had ordered the shelling of the village of Gračac on 4 and 5 August 1995, which constituted an unlawful attack on civilians and civilian objects, and brought about the forcible displacement of persons. The Chamber ruled that the order for this attack, in and of itself, amounted to a significant contribution to the joint criminal enterprise.
Both men were found guilty on 8 counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war, including persecution, deportation, plunder, destruction, murder, inhumane acts and cruel treatment. They were both found not-guilty of the third count against them, that of forcible transfer as a crime against humanity.
In sentencing Gotovina and Markač, the Chamber stated that the large number of crimes that had been committed over an extended period of time in a large geographical area, combined with the vulnerability of the victims, should be considered as aggravating circumstances. Gotovina received a sentence of 24 years imprisonment, with credit to be given for the 1956 days he spent in custody. The prosecution had sought a sentence of 27 years for a guilty verdict and the Chamber noted that it had taken mitigating factors, such as Gotovina's behaviour in detention and in the courtroom, and sentencing practices in the former Yugoslavia, into account.
Markač was given a single sentence of 18 years, with credit to be given for the 1477 days he had spent in detention.
The Chamber found that although Čermak had denied crimes committed in Grubori on 25 August 1995, and that he had provided misleading assurances to the
international community that action would be taken to stop crimes against Serbs, the prosecution had failed to prove that he had concealed crimes against
Serbs and that he was part of the joint criminal enterprise. He was acquitted of all charges and his release was ordered.
Reactions to the verdict
The BBC reports that the crowds who had gathered to watch the tribunal's hearing on big screens in the Croatian capital booed and hissed when the judge announced the guilty verdicts. Gotovina is widely viewed as a national liberator and war hero in Croatia, who became a popular folk hero after successfully evading capture during a four year manhunt prior to his capture in 2005.
Veterans of the war of independence have vowed to stage a solidarity protest rally on Saturday at Trg Bana Jelacica, Zagreb's main square.
Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor has pleaded for calm, stating that “protests cannot change anything”.
A copy of the judgment summary is available here.