Zarko Puhovski, university professor from Zagreb, says that according to the Croatian Helsinki Committee estimate some 20,000 houses were partially or totally destroyed in Sectors South and North after Operation Storm. The witness denied the defense counsel’s allegation that the data from the HHO report were blown up in order to justify the money received from foreign donors

Žarko Puhovski, svjedok na suđenju Anti Gotovini, Ivanu Čermaku i Mladenu MarkačuŽarko Puhovski, svjedok na suđenju Anti Gotovini, Ivanu Čermaku i Mladenu Markaču

A report on the consequences of Operation Storm drafted by the Croatian Helsinki Committee (HHO) in 1999 contends that 22,000 houses were partially or totally destroyed in Sector South in Krajina; this figure is based on the estimates of the UN observers. Former HHO president Zarko Puhovski agreed today with Gotovina’s defense counsel Luka Misetic as his cross-examination continued. Misetic alleged that the UN observers checked about 22,000 houses and ‘only’ 16,000 were damaged.

According to the defense, the smaller figure remains inaccurate because the report lists more damaged houses than existed according to the 1991 census. The international observers most probably counted all buildings, including outlaying facilities such as barns, pigsties or granaries, while the census in ex-Yugoslavia listed only the main buildings, Puhovski clarified. The witness allowed the UN members may not have distinguished between houses burned down before and after Operation Storm when the defense counsel suggested it to him. The HHO activists, Puhovski added, didn’t include buildings that were already overgrown with vegetation on their lists; they knew they had been destroyed earlier. ‘Local observers’ visited less villages than the UN mission, but based on what they saw they were able to reach a similar conclusion – that some 20,000 houses were totally or partially destroyed after Operation Storm in Sectors South and North.

In 1998, Puhovski withdrew for a few years from the HHO. In a ‘farewell letter’ showed today in court, he criticized his colleagues: they were dealing with war crimes only to ‘get hold of the foreign donors’ money’. Defense counsel Misetic implied that the HHO had to ‘produce a result’ to justify the money it had received. That is why the number of crimes was blown up in the report, he contended. The witness disagreed, saying that they were motivated by the donors to focus on the ‘subject and not numbers’. They preferred the HHO to exclude the unreliable data than to get an unreliable report, Puhovski explained. Besides, Puhovski noted, he believed that the HHO had to protect the human rights of living people instead of dealing with the issue of war crimes.

As the hearing went on , Markac’s defense counsel Goran Mikulicic showed a document issued by the Croatian Public Prosecutor’s Office in February 2006. The document states that after Operation Storm almost 4,000 crimes – killings, looting, rape and arson – were prosecuted, with 1,500 resulting convictions. The report doesn’t specify the number of convictions for each offence or the ethnic background of the perpetrators. When asked why the HHO report didn’t incorporate information from the Croatian judiciary, Puhovski said that the HHO could not obtain any information about criminal prosecutions before 2005. This was when Mladen Bajic was appointed chief public prosecutor.

The evidence of Zarko Puhovski, who teaches philosophy at the Zagreb University, was completed after four days. Tomorrow the prosecution will call its next witness at the trial of generals Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac, who face charges of crimes committed before and after the Operation Storm.