Bosnian Croat war crimes convict dies after taking "poison" in United Nations court

Cheryl Sanders
November 30, 2017

Former military commander Slobodan Praljak, 72, made the dramatic move seconds after United Nations judges upheld his 20-year sentence for war crimes committed in Bosnia's bloody conflict as Yugoslavia fell apart.

As judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia were delivering rulings on Wednesday on appeals related to Croatia's involvement in the 1992-95 Bosnian conflict, one of the six defendants, Praljak, who was standing, addressed the court.

Praljak was convicted in 2013 of crimes including murder, persecution and deportation for his role in a plan to carve out a Bosnian Croat ministate in Bosnia in the early 1990s.

The criminal investigation was immediately launched by Dutch authorities, who sealed off the ICTY courtroom to take evidence after Praljak told the court: "I have just taken poison", denounced the verdict, and slumped back in his chair.

Slobodan Praljak
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Emotional reactions in Bosnia to Praljak's death highlighted lasting division in the Balkans, where the court had aimed to bring reconciliation, but convicted war criminals are often revered as heroes. Praljak said he had taken poison and later died in a hospital in The Hague, Netherlands.

The tribunal, which last week convicted former Bosnian Serb military chief General Ratko Mladic of genocide and other crimes, was set up in 1993 while fighting still raged in the former Yugoslavia.

In July 1998 Slavko Dokmanovic, a Croatian Serb charged in the deaths of over 200 Croat prisoners of war, was found dead in his prison cell in The Hague. Presiding Judge Carmel Agius said it was now a "crime scene".

Croatian newspapers on Thursday focused on a lack of security measures at the tribunal and the government's rejection of the court's finding that Croatia, now a member of the European Union, was also responsible for war crimes.

Ironically, Praljak, who surrendered to the tribunal in April 2004 and had already been jailed for 13 years, could have soon walked free because those who are convicted are generally released after serving two-thirds of their sentences.

Croatia's Prime Minister, Andrej Plenkovic, later confirmed the former general had died and offered his condolences.

The other five former Bosnian Croat leaders whose sentences were affirmed by the Appeals Chamber include Jadranko Prlic, prime minister of the self-proclaimed "Croat Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia", who was given 25 years in prison.

Bosnian Croats on Wednesday lit candles in memory of Praljak in Mostar, where they held a church Mass.

The ruling is at odds with the view from Zagreb, where Croatia's own 1990s war is seen as one of liberation and self-defence against Belgrade aggression as Yugoslavia fell apart.

Parliamentary speaker Gordan Jandrokovic called on lawmakers to observe the minute of silence for "all victims of the wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina", including civilians and "the killed and missing Croatian defenders".

Other reports by iNewsToday