Upon hearing the verdict at the Hague Tribunal on Wednesday that found him guilty of crimes against humanity, former Bosnian Croat military chief Slobodan Praljak died after swallowing poison in the courtroom in The Netherlands. He was found guilty of crimes committed during the 1990s war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which saw multiple acts of cruelty, genocide, terrorism, systematic rape and torture, especially against Muslims of the former Yugoslave Republic.

The 72-year-old Praljak was once the chief at the headquarters of the Croatian Defence Council (HVO), which were the armed forces of the Croat-led statelet known as Herzeg-Bosnia. The jurisdiction was not recognized by international authorities.

Upholding his conviction for crimes against humanity, the Hague Tribunal sentenced him to 20 years in jail. While the judge was reading the verdict, Praljak suddenly interrupted the judge when he shouted, “Slobodan Praljak is not a war criminal. I reject your judgment!” He then displayed a small bottle, from which he drank after saying it contained poison. The reading of the verdict was halted immediately. Praljak was taken to a nearby hospital, but died later.

“Praljak drank a liquid in the courtroom, after which he fell ill. The emergency services took Praljak to a nearby hospital, where he died,” Tribunal spokesperson Nenad Golcevski told media. Since Praljak's suicide, the courtroom at the Hague Tribunal has been declared a crime scene. Dutch police have begun an independent investigation.

On the same day, the court -- which is under the jurisdiction of the United Nations -- also upheld the convictions of five other political and military leaders of Herzeg-Bosnia. Jadranko Prlic, Bruno Stojic, Milivoj Petkovic, Valentin Coric, and Berislav Pusic were all found guilty of crimes against humanity and other crimes against Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) while they were senior political and military officials of the Herzeg-Bosnia statelet during the fratricidal conflict.  Jadranko Prlic, the former prime minister of the Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia and the senior figure among the defendants, received a sentence of 25 years.

Stojic, the defence minister of the Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia, was jailed for 20 years, as were HVO chief Praljak and Petkovic, who was the HVO’s deputy commander.

Coric, the former commander of the HVO’s military police, was sentenced to 16 years. Pusic, the president of Herzeg-Bosnia’s Commission for the Exchange of Prisoners, was given ten years.

The Tribunal’s appeals chamber confirmed the finding of a lower court that wartime Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, Defense Minister Gojko Susak, and army chief Janko Bobetko, participated in a joint criminal enterprise with the Herzeg-Bosnia leaders. However, Croatia has repeatedly denied that it was involved in the Bosnian war. NATO troops, bolstered by U.S. Air Force and Navy air power, were decisive in bringing about a truce between the warring parties. Since then, international authorities have sought to bring genocidal military and political leaders to justice, all the while uncovering mass graves of the victims of genocide.

Bosnian Croats and Bosniaks fought together against the Serbs at the start of the war that saw the breakup of the former Yugoslave Republic after the death of dictator Josef Tito, but in late 1992 a conflict erupted between the two sides, which continued until it was resolved by a peace deal in 1994. 

The verdict on Wednesday verdict was the last to be handed down by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which will shut down at the end of this year.



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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