The ICTY Perisic Acquittal: Implications

By Brian Gallagher

Serbian General Momcilo Perisic, who had been convicted for aiding and abetting war crimes in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) has had all his convictions reversed and was freed by the ICTY appeals chamber at The Hague. What are the implications, given that this means the ICTY has failed to convict any Belgrade official for crimes in Croatia and BiH?

Belgrade will no doubt be pleased and may even use this to downplay or revise their sinister role in the war in Croatia and BiH. However, other judgements at the ICTY will make that difficult. And it will certainly be more difficult for Serbia to say the Tribunal  is biased against Serbs.

What of the Croatian genocide lawsuit against Serbia? It is likely to have no effect. Luka Misetic, who successfully represented General Ante Gotovina at the ICTY explains: “Croatia is suing for genocide for events in 1991-92, before Perisic came to office.  For the period of 1991-92, the ICTY has already affirmed the existence of a Joint Criminal Enterprise led from Belgrade that included Milosevic as well as the JNA leadership like Kadijevic and Adzic (see Martic Trial Judgement, paragraphs 445-446).  The Martic Trial Judgement was affirmed on appeal.  Accordingly, I don’t think Perisic’s acquittal will have any significant effect on Croatia’s genocide claim.”

For international justice, there are certainly implications. This is but one of a series of high profile acquittals recently. There have been the Gotovina and Haradinaj cases at the ICTY of course, but the Rwanda tribunal and the International Criminal Court has also seen recent major acquittals of late. Some of these cases should never have got off the ground in the first place.

With the aforementioned Gotovina case it was known at the time of Operation Storm that the Serb leadership had organised the evacuation of their population from Croatia. Not only did the indictment proceed, but Croatian generals Gotovina and Markac were falsely convicted on the basis of a bizarre Joint Criminal Enterprise theory involving 50 artillery shells frightening civilians to leave – for which no victims were actually produced. The crimes Perisic was acquitted of aiding and abetting were real enough at least.

And a 200M artillery rule was invented without explanation by the court to get those 50 shells – a standard so high that it transpired the British Army in Afghanistan could not attain it or indeed the standard of the Croatian gunners.

If international justice does not get its act together with its prosecutions and judgments, then its reputation will suffer.

The case against a group of Bosnian Croats (Prlic et al) for war crimes against Bosnian Muslims is due to reach a verdict during March. The Joint Criminal Enterprise element will be of great importance to Zagreb as it claims that Croatia under Franjo Tudjman was involved in attempting to carve–up the country.

Will all these acquittals concentrate the minds of the judges in that case? Deliberations are well advanced – possibly even concluded – by now in the case, so the Perisic verdict may have no effect at all. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see, especially given that Croatia effectively saved BiH from Serb forces, what the judges in that case decide.

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