The Judgment of the Croatian Generals (7)

Previously, SENSE has analyzed in detail the conclusions of the Trial Chamber in respect of the basic elements of the joint criminal enterprise aimed at expelling Serbs from Krajina, indiscriminate shelling of towns and deportation of civilians. The next three articles will deal with the judges’ findings about the individual criminal responsibility of the three accused

Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac in the courtroomAnte Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac in the courtroom

Based on the evidence called during the trial, Judge Orie’s Trial Chamber concluded that Ante Gotovina participated in various ways in the joint criminal enterprise aimed at the permanent elimination of Serb civilians from Krajina. Gotovina was sentenced to 24 years in prison, while Mladen Markac, former special police commander Mladen Markac got 18 years. Ivan Cermak was acquitted of all charges.

As the commander of the Split Military District, the judgment stated, Gotovina undoubtedly exercised command over all the units that took part in Operation Storm and committed crimes against Serbs in the summer of 1995. Gotovina’s contribution to the joint criminal enterprise is reflected in the fact that he was at the Brioni meeting when the plan to expel Serbs from Krajina was put together. ‘An important element’ in the implementation of the plan was ‘the unlawful attack on civilians’ through indiscriminate shelling of Krajina towns. Gotovina in fact ordered the artillery to fire on Knin, Obrovac and Benkovac, the judgment notes. The judges here quoted an order Gotovina issued on 2 August 1995, instructing his subordinates to ‘treat whole towns as targets’ in the course of their artillery attacks.

The judgment goes on to say that Gotovina contributed to the implementation of the goals of the joint criminal enterprise when he failed to prevent murder and other crimes against Serb civilians and didn’t take measures to punish perpetrators. This ‘had an impact on the general attitude towards crimes’ in the liberated territory.

The judges found there was enough evidence indicating that the commander of the Split Military District received regular reports about frequent attacks on Serb civilians. The judges noted that Gotovina recieved those reports from his subordinate officers and the international representatives. On the first day of Operation Storm, on 4 August 1995, the UN Sector South commander Alain Forand wrote a letter to Gotovina, demanding an immediate stop to the shelling of ‘unarmed civilians’ which was ‘contrary to international humanitarian law’. Forand wrote another letter the next day, warning Gotovina of the looting and destruction of Serb property. Forand continued raising those objections at various meetings after the end of Operation Storm. At a meeting on 5 September 1995, Forand asked Gotovina ‘why he didn’t put an end to the ongoing looting and burning of houses’. Gotovina told Forand that ‘he could not control some of the things that were going on, and that it was a way for his people (military and civilian) to take revenge for Serb actions in 1991'.

In the judgment the judges refer to the reports Gotovina’s subordinate officers sent to the Split Military District commander. Gotovina’s meeting with his officers at the Knin fortress on 6 August 1995 is highlighted as an important indicator that Gotovina knew about crimes. General Gotovina described the situation in the liberated territory as a ‘disgrace’, saying, ‘“[b]arbarians and vandals work like that! Those who are paid with war booty! And wage war for war booty'. Bosko Dzolic, who commanded the joint military police company in Knin, testified that on that same day, 6 August 1995, those who stood on the Knin fortress could see smoke coming from the villages around Knin.

General Ivan Cermak attended the meeting too. In his statement to the OTP investigators, Cermak said about Gotovina’s comments to his subordinates, ‘One thing is to say, and the other thing is to do something about it...They were just talking’. In his statement, Cermak said that at other meetings Gotovina repeatedly spoke about ‘the illegal actions carried out by the Croatian military on the ground [...][that] had to stop'. Gotovina replied that 'he knew and that they would stop [...] it'. According to Cermak, Gotovina tried to shift the blame for the events around Knin on the civilian authorities, although he admitted that the army was responsible for the situation in the town.

Gotovina had authority over all the units in the Split Military District and taking measures to ensure that all his subordinates guilty of crimes were prosecuted was his responsibility. Gotovina could, for instance, use the military police, because they were under his command, although the defense claimed they were not. The Trial Chamber concluded that Gotovina ‘only rarely used his authority over the military police’. According to the documents admitted into evidence, Gotovina used disciplinary measures at least 70 times in August and September 1995, but he acted ‘mostly in relation to minor breaches’.

Instead of punishing the perpetrators, Gotovina praised his subordinates and gave them recommendations they later used to obtain awards and promotions. In his report to the Chief of the HV Main Staff Zvonimir Cervenko on 15 August 1995, Gotovina says ‘military discipline and combat morale are exceptionally high’.

The Trial Chamber thus concluded that Gotovina was a participant in the joint criminal enterprise aimed at the permanent expulsion of Serb civilians from Krajina through persecution, deportation and forcible transfer. The judgment notes that Gotovina was aware that the destruction and looting of property, killings, inhumane acts, cruel treatment and unlawful detention of civilians were all natural and foreseeable consequences of the joint criminal enterprise.