Region mulls impact of Gotovina acquittal


The surprise acquittal of two former Croatian generals in The Hague raises questions on the potential impact on other trials.

By Bedrana Kaletovic, Lily Lynch and Biljana Lajmanovska for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo, Belgrade and Skopje -- 20/11/12


Former Croatian generals Ante Gotovina (right) and Mladen Markac were released last week. [AFP]

Last week's reversal of the verdict against former Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač, which resulted in their freedom, could give new hope to the defenses of Vojislav Seselj, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, some experts said.

In April 2011, The Hague tribunal found Gotovina and Markac guilty of committing crimes against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war from July to September in 1995 by participating in a joint criminal enterprise to permanently and forcibly remove the Serb civilian population from the Krajina region of Croatia. Gotovina was sentenced to 24 years in prison and Markač was sentenced to serve 18 years.

On Friday (November 16th), the Appeal Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) reversed the convictions, setting the generals free.

"It is not clear whether the standard used by the Gotovina appeals chamber will be used in other cases or not, but if this happens … [it] could also be helpful to the Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic defenses, because it would obligate the prosecution to show direct knowledge and intent for every individual incident," Eric Gordy, senior lecturer of Southeast European politics at the University of London, told SETimes.

He said the Gotovina-Markac ruling will have enormous significance on the outcome of the case against Serbian Radical Party Leader Vojislav Seselj, who is facing charges of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war for his alleged participation in a joint criminal enterprise.

"There are strong implications for the Seselj case, since the main form of liability in that charge is participation in a joint criminal enterprise," he said.

Prosecutors have asked that Seselj receive a 28-year sentence for allegedly organising paramilitary groups and persuading them to commit atrocities during the Balkan wars of the early 1990s.

Seselj's legal advisor in The Hague, Nemanja Sarovic, told SETimes that he thinks that the Gotovina decision will not impact on other cases pending before the ICTY.

"I hope this verdict will not influence other trials in the ICTY because those other trials are about different people, different circumstances, and different territories. However, the major discrepancies between the first and second verdicts call the court's decision into serious question," Sarovic told SETimes.

As countries of the region debate whether the ruling is considered fair, the decision sparks hope for "justice" for those on trial in The Hague.

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The team of lawyers who represented Gotovina already brought about the acquittal of former Macedonian Interior Minister Ljube Boshkoski, who was charged with command responsibility for the police action in the Macedonian village of Ljuboten in 2001.

Therefore, there is a hope that Johan Tarchulovski, the police officer and member of the President's Security Unit in the interior ministry who is serving a 12-year sentence, will be freed soon. In March 2013, he will have served two-thirds of his jail sentence, allowing him to ask the tribunal to review his release.

"Johan Tarchulovski is sentenced because he carried out an order given by his superior and he went to defend his country, same as the two Croatian generals. They were released, he wasn't. These double standards show that this tribunal has to allow the region a chance to deal with its history and make peace with itself," former Foreign Minister Slobodan Chasule told SETimes.

"We always think of Johan Tarchulovski as a defender and an honest man that loves his country," Stevo Nasevski from the Organisation for Support of Johan Tarchulovski, told SETimes.

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