Tomorrow sees the verdict in the trial of General Ante Gotovina and his co-defendants Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac. We will bring some coverage tomorrow this. Today the CBR editor – who has followed the case since the beginning – had an article published in Croatian-Australian newspaper Hrvatski Vjesnik, which we reproduce below.
Hrvatski Vjesnik 14 April 2011
Gotovina: The Imminent Verdict
By Brian Gallagher
The Judgment in the Gotovina, Cermak and Markac case is due to be heard on 15
April 2011 at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
(ICTY). On the eve of the ruling, it is worth a look at aspects of the trial and the consequences of a guilty verdict.
The verdict will have major repercussions as the Croatian state is – via the
Joint Criminal Enterprise concept – effectively accused of ethnically cleansing
Serbs from Croatia.
There is of course concern over what the findings might be, with protests
threatened. The legal teams and the accused have not supported calls for
protests. This is quite right as at this point it is appropriate to see what the verdict is – the judges must have their chance to throw out the charges.
Throughout the trial the defendants and their legal teams have behaved
responsibly. Unlike other trials at the ICTY, the Gotovina one has not
degenerated into a political circus. As it is, the trial has been played out
with a focus on the case itself, with the weakness of the prosecution case laid
bare to the Croatian public. The defence have certainly done their job well,
being very clinical in their approach.
The Prosecution and its supporters would have indeed preferred some kind of
political circus – that would have provided much public diversion from their
poor case. A case so poor that a number of prosecution witnesses actually
confirmed significant defence arguments.
Most notable of such witnesses is perhaps former US ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith who confirmed that Operation Storm was not intended as an ethnic cleansing operation. Indeed, the final trial brief of the defence opens with a quote from Galbraith – no doubt to the great embarrassment of the prosecution.
The trial saw much else – the detailed Serb planning for evacuating its own
citizens from Croatia, a prosecution video that transpired to have been edited,
complete with sound effects inserted, by the Yugoslav army, the exposure of the
supposed ‘excessive’ bombardment of Knin as having created little damage,
evidence of UN-Serb collusion, a former Serb military leader providing evidence
for the defence and more.
Such a case would have been thrown out in a Western court well before getting to a verdict stage.
Guilty verdicts for a Joint Criminal Enterprise would have repercussions both
political and legal. Serbian propaganda has it that their crimes in Croatia
were defensive – against a resurgent Croatian fascist state and on. This is also linked to the war against Bosnia-Herzegovina – ‘fascist Croats’, ‘Islamic fundamentalists’ and/or ‘fascist Muslims’ and so on. Such claptrap would not be so easily dismissed in the event of a guilty verdict. The Serbs would say ‘We were right all along – and the ICTY says so’. With UN backing, they would portray themselves as victims rather than aggressors. Moderate Serb voices – such as they are – would be crushed. The power of this should not be
underestimated, and could see demand for Serbian powers in Croatia.
The legal consequences could be many. Croatian Serb citizens could sue for extra compensation in Croatian courts and international ones such as the European
Court of Human Rights – they will have an ICTY ruling behind them, it won’t be
The genocide lawsuits filed by Croatia and Serbia at the World Court in The
Hague – a different body to the ICTY – will be affected. In the Croatian case
the Serbs will claim self-defence. The Serbian lawsuit – currently a bit of a
joke – will suddenly have a UN ruling to help it.
Top Croatian officials will have to very rapidly look at their travel plans.
Serb prosecutors will have a weapon to issue arrest warrants. The Joint Criminal Enterprise encompasses pretty much the entire Croatian state, so many people –
indeed in lowly positions also – may be affected. If a JCE is ‘proved’ at the
verdict, then it will not be easy to disregard such warrants.
That will also apply to other countries. Bosnia-Herzegovina took part in Operation Storm of course, its 5th Corps playing a role. Last year, Ejup Ganic was arrested in London on a fatuous arrest warrant from Belgrade. He was rightly released, in part due to the ICTY having already found no evidence against him for crimes. If a Bosnian involved in Operation Storm were now similarly arrested, the Serbs would point to a UN verdict alleging a JCE.
More mischievous prosecutors around the world may even try to indict US
officials such as Bill Clinton on the back of it using various ‘universal
jurisdiction’ ideas. The US of courses was instrumental in Operation Storm –
they provided the training and intelligence and so on.
Of course, the political element will take its toll on the US too – its moral
authority will be weakened and the Serbs will make the most of that. How will
they lecture the Bosnian Serbs when the UN will have just implicated them in a
Ironically, ICTY Serb defendants may also use a guilty verdict in their defence or appeals.
In the event of a JCE guilty verdict, at least some of the above scenarios will
play out. It is worth mentioning that in the Milan Spanovic extradition process
in London a couple of years back the Gotovina case was raised as reason to
prevent the extradition. The judge properly pointed out that he cannot take that into consideration, as the trial had not concluded – but the point here is that the Gotovina case has already been raised in a legal process.
If the Generals are acquitted, then Belgrade will have been deprived of a
propaganda tool – and may well lead to the Serbs starting to act more
constructively with its neighbors, if not accepting of their aggression
during the war.
The verdict is now imminent. It is worth noting that both prosecution and
defence will have the right to appeal – depending on the outcome. The ICTY have
made mistakes before and have convicted people on charges later overturned. The
fear amongst many is that such a mistake may occur again.However, whilst it is
true that the ICTY has made mistakes, it has sometimes fully acquitted people in the past. Hopefully it will do so now.
It is time to see what the judges have to say.