In the opening statement at the beginning of Operation Storm trial, the prosecution emphasizes that the crimes against Serbian civilians, of which Gotovina, Cermak and Markac are accused, were not committed in the ‘heat of the battle’. Nor were they ‘the unavoidable and isolated consequence of the armed conflict’. Ante Gotovina’s defense will deliver its opening statement tomorrow

Alain Tieger, prosecutor at the Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac trialAlain Tieger, prosecutor at the Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac trial

In its opening statement at the start of the trial for crimes committed during Operation Storm and its aftermath in the summer of 1995, the prosecution today presented the outline of its case against the three Croatian generals – Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac – to be presented in the coming months.

The prosecution doesn’t contest ‘Croatia’s right to re-integrate Krajina within its internationally recognized borders’, [IMAGE]3289[/IMAGE]American senior trial attorney Alan Tieger stated at the beginning of the opening statement. Apart from this legitimate aim, he went on, Operation Storm had an additional objective: to eliminate the Serbian civilian population from that part of Croatia and to ensure that their removal was permanent.

According to the prosecution, the ‘additional objectives’ were implemented in the joint criminal enterprise, that involved the three accused, and President Tudjman and other Croatian officials. The prosecutor quoted several examples from the famous ‘presidential transcripts’, and Tudjman’s public addresses. In them, the Croatian president notes that Serbs ‘should be hit so hard that they basically disappear’. The artillery attack against Knin should be so intense that it ‘demoralizes Serbs and forces them to flee’. According to him, ‘it is important that the civilians start leaving, because the army will follow them’.

Among the evidence the prosecution intends to call are orders for the shelling of Knin, Benkovac, Obrovac and other cities in the Krajina region. As the prosecution sees it, the Croatian forces did not shell military targets: there were not many of those in those towns. The targets were civilian buildings, including hospitals. They were selected to demoralize the population and force it to flee. This was accomplished by a heavy barrage at dawn on 4 and 5 August 1995. In those attacks, the Croatian forces failed to observe two key principles of artillery attacks, the principle of distinguishing between military and civilian targets and the principle of proportionality.

[IMAGE]3290[/IMAGE]As Swiss prosecutor Stefan Waespi said, the prosecution intends to prove specific crimes listed in the indictment: wanton destruction of towns and villages, burning of houses, looting and killing of civilians. As Waespi described it, after Operation Storm, Krajina lay in ruins, hundreds of Serbian civilians were killed. Almost the entire Serb population left the area, villages and towns were destroyed and looted. Livestock was killed and crops burnt down. These crimes, the prosecutor stressed, were committed outside of the ‘military context’ and were not ‘the unavoidable and isolated consequence of the armed conflict’. There is no military justification for what the Croatian forces did to the Serbian civilians and their property in the summer of 1995.

Alan Tieger concluded the prosecution opening statement by reminding the court that a commander’s duty was to prevent or punish the crimes committed by his subordinates. As Tieger indicated, the prosecution intends to prove that Gotovina, Cermak and Markac received information regularly about what was going on in their areas of responsibility. According to the prosecution, they had both de iure and de facto control over their subordinate military and police troops but failed to do anything to prevent crimes or punish the perpetrators. There is evidence pointing to their efforts to conceal the crimes and cover them up, sending a clear message to their subordinates that their behavior would be tolerated and that they could carry on with unpunished crimes against Serbs.

[IMAGE]3288[/IMAGE]General Ante Gotovina’s defense team will deliver its opening statement tomorrow.