Hague prosecutor critical of war-crimes acquittals
THE HAGUE — The chief prosecutor of the Yugoslav war-crimes tribunal expressed disappointment on Wednesday that appeals judges of the United Nations court overturned the convictions of two Croat generals for involvement in violence that drove thousands of Serbs from their homes and left hundreds dead.
Gens. Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac were released Friday after the appeals judges, by a 3-2 majority, reversed convictions for war crimes, including murders and illegal deportations during a 1995 military campaign known as Operation Storm.
In an unusual step, the Hague tribunal's chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, issued a statement saying his office is “disappointed by the outcome.”
Brammertz said he is aware that Serb victims “are not satisfied by the outcome and feel their suffering has not been acknowledged.”
That was putting it mildly.
The acquittals sparked fury in Serbia, where many see the U.N. court as biased against them because the majority of the war criminals convicted have been Serbs. The country's nationalist President Tomislav Nikolic called the appeals ruling “scandalous” and warned it would “not contribute to the stabilization of the situation in the region, but will reopen all wounds.”
Serbia's own war-crimes prosecutor, Vladimir Vukcevic, said Wednesday that his office has opened six investigations of alleged war crimes committed against Serbs during Operation Storm. He said Serbian authorities had previously deferred to U.N. prosecutors, but the release of Gotovina and Markac has forced them to investigate.
The news of Serbia's investigation triggered outrage in Croatia, with opposition leader and former Interior Minister Tomislav Karamarko saying “there will be no reconciliation” between the two bitter Balkan rivals before Serbia recognizes that it was the aggressor during the war.
Croatians viewed Gotovina and Markac's acquittals as vindication of their position that their nation was a victim in the 1990s Balkan wars. Thousands of cheering revelers, including veterans of Croatia's war of independence, packed the capital Zagreb's main square on Friday to give Gotovina and Markac a hero's welcome.
In The Hague, Brammertz said his office must respect the appellate panel's decision. Under the tribunal's rules, such a review can only be begun if new facts emerge that were not known at the time of the original conviction or appeals process. He pressed Croat prosecutors to investigate crimes committed during Operation Storm, when Croat forces began a lightning offensive to drive Serbs from land they had seized early in the wars that erupted across the Balkans.