06 June 2013

Still the Wrong Kind of Croats

Embattled Bosnian Croat enclaves in Central Bosnia during the Muslim-Croat War

In December I wrote about the attitude of the ICTY toward the Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I noted the court has shown itself to be negatively disposed to them and highly energized to pursue them.

I noted this differed from its demonstrated disposition toward Croatia. Indictments against soldiers and officials of the Croat Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia were issued much earlier and were more numerous (27) than those issued against the officials and soldiers of Republic of Croatia (6).

Also, the outcome of subsequent trials was far different. All procedures against officers of the Croatian military ended up in withdrawals, acquittals or transfers to Croatian courts so that in the end the ICTY did not condemn any of them to any length of imprisonment. Meanwhile the twelve Bosnian-Herzegovian Croats who found themselves condemned gathered convictions that add up to 166 years of imprisonment.

At the time, one trial against the Bosnian-Herzegovian Croats was still ongoing, the trial of six of their highest war-time political and military officials ("the Herzeg-Bosnian Six"). Last week they were proclaimed guilty and sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging between 25 to 10 years, for a total of 111 years for all six. If the sentences are confirmed at the inevitable appeal, it will mean the disconnect between condemnation by the ICTY of Bosnian-Herzegovian Croats and of Croats from Croatia will amount to 277 years for the former, to zero for the latter.

Apparently encouraged by the fact that last year the sentences against two Croatian generals (Gotovina and Markač) were overturned on appeal, many media outlets in Croatia have carried opinions speculating the same could happen with regards to the "Herzeg-Bosnian Six". Especially since the verdict was a split decision one of the three judges published a dissenting opinion in a 600 page-long dissertation.

First of all that seems at least somewhat self-serving. This is the very same media that year upon year of the trial has shown extremely little interest in publicizing the details of the proceedings and reminding the public it was happening. Instead it has been happy to see the marathon-trial pass from the mind of the public. Now that a verdict has been proclaimed and it has been forced to report on it, however, it opts to accompany the reporting with a prediction it may be realistic to expect the proclamation of guilt to yet be revoked which just happens to lessen the impact of the news.

Secondly, even should the reversal actually happen, even most optimists do not believe it is likely the six would be acquitted on all counts, but just of the gravest and the most absurd charge of having took part in a "joint criminal enterprise". This would mean their sentences would be reduced, but they would not be actually proclaimed innocent of war crimes in the manner of Gotovina and Markač.

Furthermore, it is probably more likely that the verdict against the "Herzeg-Bosnian Six" will in fact be upheld. The wider context is different from the Gotovina and Markač trials. The two Croatian generals only ever participated in conflict with the Serbs, whereas the forces of Herzeg-Bosnia came up against both the Serbs and the Bosnian Muslims. At the ICTY that makes all the difference.


It has been the case that, whether a participant of the wars in the former Yugoslavia belonged to a faction on the good, or the bad side of western interventionists has been a very good predictor, of how likely it is the ICTY is going to take a real interest in proclaiming him guilty of a serious crime. Officials and the military personnel of factions that were favored by the western powers (Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the KLA) are very rarely indicted and even then can hope to receive acquittals or slaps on the wrist. (Except in a few cases where the accused was a sacrificial lamb of very low rank). Meanwhile those representing belligerents the western powers were unfavorably disposed to (Serbs, Bosnian Croats) are much more likely to be indicted and to end up sentenced to long term imprisonment.

Additionally whereas Bosnian Muslims and Albanians have usually been permitted to stand trial from freedom, Serbs and Croats have almost always been confined for the duration of their trials. (An important difference at an institution where trials routinely take several years.) Finally it has been the case the most serious charges of a "joint criminal enterprise" have only ever been brought against Serbs and Croats. Needless to say, albeit NATO powers were an active participant in two of the wars in former Yugoslavia the ICTY has never even contemplated examining their war record, much less bringing charges.

As concerns the war between the Republic of Croatia and the Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK) and the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) the western powers at the time clearly favored the Croatian side and lent it a great deal of diplomatic support, and at the very least the United States and Germany also lent it some technical assistance. Correspondingly the ICTY has sentenced four individuals from the Serbian faction to a combined length of imprisonment of 75 years.1 The sentenced include two presidents of the Republic of Serbian Krajina, with the third (Goran Hadžić) still on trial. At the same time the court in the end did not convict anyone from the Croatian side to any length of imprisonment.

In regard to the Kosovo War between FR Yugoslavia and the KLA and NATO the ICTY has sentenced six individuals from the Serbian side to a combined length of imprisonment of 122 years.2 The sentenced are all high-ranking officials or officers. They include the Chief of the General Staff of the Yugoslav Army (VJ) and the deputy prime minister of Yugoslavia. From the other side it sentenced two mid-level KLA commanders to a combined length of imprisonment of 19 years.3 It did not pursue officials or soldiers of any of the NATO powers.

In relation to the War in Bosnia and Herzegovina as relates to the fighting between the forces of the Republic of Srpska on the one, and the forces of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Croat Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia on the other side the western powers clearly favored the latter faction. In the last year of the war NATO directly involved itself in the war on the Muslim-Croat side. More meaningfully for the outcome of the conflict, the western powers arm-twisted FR Yugoslavia in joining the sanctions regime against the Republic of Srpska and backed an intervention of the Croatian Army (HV) into Bosnia against the Bosnian Serbs.

Correspondingly the ICTY has so far sentenced 44 soldiers and officials from the Serbian side to a combined length of imprisonment of 665,5 years along with two life imprisonments.4 From the opposing side it sentenced one Bosnian Croat and two Bosnian Muslims of crimes against Bosnian Serbs for a combined length of imprisonment of 42 years.5 It also sentenced an additional three Bosnian Muslim soldiers of crimes against Bosnian Croats, as well as of crimes against Serbs for a combined length of imprisonment of 8,5 years.6 The sentenced from the Serbian side include the highest ranking officers and officials. From the other side one Bosnian Muslim general has been proclaimed guilty of war crimes, but he received only a light sentence of 3 years.

In relation to the Muslim-Croat War in Bosnia and Herzegovina the ICTY has previously sentenced eleven Bosnian-Herzegovian Croats for a combined length of imprisonment of 157 years. With the recent sentence against the "Herzeg-Bosnian six" this makes a combined 268 years.7 From the opposing side it has convicted, for crimes against the Bosnian Croats, three Bosnian Muslim soldiers (already mentioned in the previous paragraph) to a combined length of imprisonment of 8,5 years.

Western powers did not intervene against the Bosnian Croats with their own forces like they did against the Serbs, however, they did facilitate transfer of arms mainly from Iran and the Sunni Gulf monarchies to Bosnian Muslim forces during the Muslim-Croat War (ironically through Croatia itself). Also the Muslim-Croat War ended when the United States arm-twisted the Croats into signing the Washington Treaty, which committed the Bosnian-Herzegovian Croats to the dissolution of the Croat Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia. (Although the Bosnian Muslim side made some concessions as well, it was understood this would clear the path for the intervention of the Croatian Army on its behalf against the Bosnian Serbs.)

Altogether, in the four conflicts the ICTY has appropriated for itself to adjudicate, it has convicted eight individuals from the sides the western powers favored for a combined length of imprisonment of 69,5 years. From the sides that the western powers did not favor it has convicted seventy-one individuals for a combined length of imprisonment of 1130,5 years and additional two life sentences. The contrast could not be more stark, and this is at the present, with four procedures, including against Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karađić, still ongoing.


It is notable that while Croats have gathered 277 years in convictions, of these only 9 years have been for crimes where victims were Serbian. The other 268 years are in reference to cases from the Muslim-Croat War in Bosnia (1993-94) and therefore for crimes, actual or illusory, against Bosnian Muslims.

As things stand now, the ICTY alleges the wartime president of Croatia, Franjo Tuđman, was part of a "joint criminal enterprise" in the Muslim-Croat War against the Bosnian Muslims where Croatia played only a limited and indirect role, but not in regard to the war in Croatia against the Serbs where Croatia was a fully involved belligerent. In fact where the war in Croatia produced a quarter of a million Serbian refugees, the Muslim-Croat War actually drove only a fraction of that number of Bosnian Muslims from their homes.

The ICTY's record on the Muslim-Croat War is one of the most absurd. In this case, its displeasure falls on the side which was, from beginning to end, the weaker side in the war, and was on the back footing throughout. It was a war that was for the most part fought in Central Bosnia where the Bosnian Croats had about 12,000 men under arms, while the Bosnian Muslim forces numbered up to 70,000, yet the ICTY alleges the Croats had since 1991 planned to throw themselves into a war to eliminate the latter.

By Croatian estimates for every Bosnian Muslim refugee expelled from Croat-held territory between two and three Bosnian Croats were expelled from the territory which in successive ARBiH offensives fell under the control of the Bosnian Muslim side. Yet the ICTY somehow simply knows the smaller refugee flow of Bosnian Muslims was a part of a heinous and long-standing, wider plan at the top, while the larger refugee flow of Bosnian Croats just happened to happen, perhaps as a consequence of "random acts of a few unruly soldiers".

The consequence is that albeit more Croats were victimized by the Muslim-Croat War, their war effort has been criminalized to a much greater extent, than that of the dominant Bosnian Muslim side which endured less suffering, and inflicted more of it. Clearly just as it is extremely hard for anyone (including the Bosnian Croats) to find themselves convicted of crimes against the Serbs, it is equally hard for anyone who is not a Serb to find themselves convicted of crimes against the Bosnian-Herzegovian Croats. Meanwhile, it is quite easy for anyone to find themselves proclaimed guilty of grave crimes against the Bosnian Muslims.


As established, the ICTY has been far more likely to convict individuals from the factions the western powers intervened against in the 1990s, rather than from the factions on whose behalf they intervened. This should not be surprising at all. It should be kept in mind the ICTY itself is a form of outside, largely western, intervention into the region and its semi-recent conflicts.

The ICTY represents a key moral-political leg of the military intervention into former Yugoslavia. After it was established (extra-legally by the UN Security Council) in 1993 the ICTY quickly proved its usefulness in providing added rationale for the necessity, and the urgency, of heavy-handed intervention in the Balkans against certain chosen native black hat factions. Western intervention, including military interference was needed to create a situation where the leaders and the soldiers of the factions the West held in poor regard could be brought to trial.

On the other hand it was because of the moral rationale for the intervention provided by the ICTY, that the military intervention could serve the interests of western politicians in discovering a new "common, uplifting purpose" that could rehabilitate western imperialism and military adventurism, and add a new lease of life to common western institutions such as the NATO, which the end of the Cold War had plunged into a mid-life crisis.

It was because of the ICTY, that western powers could claim they were not battling for its geopolitical advantage and own selfish interests, but were instead selflessly thwarting and pursuing criminals. Also the ICTY specifically established the West was equipt to stand in judgement of non-Westerners in the Balkans, and potentially anywhere else in Eastern Europe, or possibly the world over. As such the West was well-equipt to draw distinction between the various Balkan factions, to sort the good from the wicked, and to protect the former and conquer the latter. That is to say the ICTY asserted there was a kind of moral sophistication to the West that did not necessarily exist with the belligerent sides in the dark Balkans — a very useful notion for any western imperialist indeed.

As the political-judicial aspect of western intervention in the former Yugoslavia the ICTY can no more offer Bosnian-Herzegovian Croats a fair trial than it can condemn wartime Western interference against the Bosnian Croat faction, and on the behalf of the favored Bosnian Muslim faction. To do so would inevitably reveal as a lie the notion the West possesses the intellectual and the moral credibility to distinguish between a worthy and unworthy former Yugoslav. This in turn would wreak havoc on the justification for the entire project of western intervention in the Balkans, including the ICTY itself. Simply, if western interventionists had wrongly demonized the Croat side in the Muslim-Croat War, then they were not qualified to stand in judgement of the various Balkan factions, and therefore had no business setting up the ICTY in the first place.

Since the West has already demonized the Serbs, and the Bosnian Croats in the 1990s, and reaped a reward on the political-moral sphere for applying military, economic and political pressure against them, the sentences against Bosnian Croats at a western war crimes court can only be of one kind. If the ICTY were to overturn the verdicts against the "Herzeg-Bosnian six" — as half-expected by Croatian media — this would be an upset an order of magnitude greater than the previous backtracking on Gotovina and Markač. Naturally it may be difficult for the Croatian media to admit this, because it is not inclined to contribute to animosity for western powers and institutions in Croatia just as the country is joining the EU.

1. Miodrag Jokić (7), Mile Mrkšić (20), Milan Babić (13), Milan Martić (35).

2. Vlastimir Đorđević (27), Dragoljub Ojdanić (15), Nikola Šainović (22), Sreten Lukić (22), Vladimir Lazarević (15) and Nebojša Pavković (22). These sentences, except in the Ojdanić case, still need to be confirmed by the appeals body, so the lengths of imprisonment are not necessarily final.

3. Haradin Bala (13), Lahi Brahimaj (6).

4. Milan Lukić (life imprisonment) , Sredoje Lukić (27 years imprisonment), Ljubomir Borovčanin (15 years), Radoslav Brđanin (30), Ranko Češić (18), Stanislav Galić (life), Goran Jelisić (40), Radomir Kovač (20), Momčilo Krajišnik (20), Radislav Krstić (35), Dragoljub Kunarac (28), Dragomir Milošević (29), Darko Mrđa (17), Dragan Nikolić (20), Momir Nikolić (20), Mlađo Radić (20), Milomir Stakić (40), Dragan Zelenović (15), Zoran Žigić (25), Predrag Banović (8), Vidoje Blagojević (15), Damir Došen (5), Dražen Erdemović (5), Milan Gvero (5), Dragan Jokić (9), Dragan Kolundžija (3), Milojica Kos (6), Milorad Krnojelac (15), Miroslav Kvočka (7), Dragan Obrenović (17), Biljana Plavšić (11), Dragoljub Prcać (5), Duško Sikirica (15), Blagoje Simić (15), Milan Simić (15), Veselin Šljivančanin (10), Pavle Strugar (7,5), Duško Tadić (20), Stevan Todorović (10), Mitar Vasiljević (15), Zoran Vuković (12), Simo Zarić (6), Miroslav Deronjić (10).

5. Zdravko Mucić (9), Hazim Delić (18), Esad Landžo (15).

6. Rasim Delić (3), Enver Hadžihasanović (3,5), Amir Kubura (2).

7. Tihomir Blaškić (9), Dario Kordić (25), Miroslav Bralo (20), Vladimir Šantić (18), Vinko Martinović (18), Mladen Naletilić (20), Drago  Josipović (12), Ivica Rajić (12), Anto Furundžija (10), Zlatko Aleksovski (7), Čerkez (6) and Slobodan Praljak (20), Jadranko Prlić (25), Berislav Pušić (10), Bruno Stojić (20), Milivoj Petković (20), Valentin Ćorić (16).

1 comment:

  1. Had the Bosnian Croats aligned themselves with the Bosnian Serbs & their Bosnian Muslim allies led by Fikret Abdic they would have faired a lot better in the long run.