Two Croatian Officers who had previously been convicted of war crimes committed during the Balkan wars of the 1990’s were freed by appeal judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) this week.
General Ante Gotovina and Police Commander Mladen Markac, who had both been convicted of targeting hospitals and other civilian sites during a military operation to retake the Croatian region of Kranjina from rebel Serbians, smiled and made the victory sign with their hands as they were driven out of the detention center in The Hague, Holland. Both Gotovina and Markac, who had been in custody since 2005, were then flown home in a Croatian government jet.
Unsurprisingly, the appeals judgment was met with completely different reactions in Croatia and Serbia. A New York Times article noted that in Croatia both men received a “red carpet welcome.”
Meanwhile, Serbian officials reacted with disgust. “It is now quite clear the Tribunal has made a political decision and not a legal ruling. Today’s ruling will not contribute to the stabilization of the situation in the region and will open old wounds,” Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic said.
Ultimately, the appeals judges at the Tribunal found that civilians had not been targeted on purpose by either Gotovina or Markac, “Without a finding that the artillery attacks were unlawful, the Trial Chamber’s conclusion that a joint criminal enterprise existed cannot be sustained.”
Some critics have stated that Gotovina and Markac’s acquittal is a setback for prosecutors at the ICTY, who have been accused of focusing primarily on Serbian suspects in their investigations of war crimes during the Balkan wars where over 100,000 civilians were killed. The Tribunal, appointed by the United Nations, has been prosecuting war crimes since 1993 and has indicted 161 people (with 14 acquitted). Approximately 68% of those indictees have been Serbians, with the remaining portion accounting for Croatian defendants.
What do you make of the complaints of the Serbian government and population? Do they have a legitimate argument, or are they simply unhappy with the judgment rendered by the Tribunal? What bias, if any, could they be bothered by? Is there any source of recourse for the Serbian people unhappy with the judgment?