The defense of convicted Croatian general Ante Gotovina has been prompted by Slobodan Milosevic’s words at a Supreme Defense Council meeting to consider that there are documents that ‘probably may be of use’ in their effort to overturn the Trial Chamber’s judgment on appeal. Gotovina’s defense has asked the Appeals Chamber to compel Serbia to deliver the documents by 15 July 2011

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

Ante Gotovina’s defense has recently obtained information that, his lawyers contend, might help him overturn the Trial Chamber’s judgment on appeal. Gotovina was sentenced to 24 years and Mladen Markac to 18 years in prison respectively for crimes against the Krajina Serbs. The documents are the recently disclosed transcripts of the meetings of the FR Yugoslavia’s Supreme Defense Council published in their entirety on the SENSE news agency website.

The defense began with the minutes of the Supreme Defense Council’s 41st meeting of 14 August 1995, where the Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic says that it would be ‘idiotic’ to help the RSK after they decided to leave Krajina causing an exodus of the people, ‘when all the conditions were in place for them to defend themselves’. ‘Is this supposed to be the reason for Yugoslavia to rush in there and defend the territories they fled like a bunch of rabbits’, Milosevic asked.

The defense contends that the quote is relevant for the Croatian generals’ appeal because it ‘sheds new light on what the Serb leadership thought was the reason why civilians fled Krajina’ during and after Operation Storm. According to the defense, Milosevic’s words underpin their argument that the main reason why Serbs left Knin, Obrovac, Benkovac, Gracac and other parts of Krajina was an evacuation order issued by the Krajina authorities, not artillery attacks launched by the Croatian army and police.

Prompted by Milosevic’s words, the defense filed a motion seeking the disclosure of the

additional minutes of the Supreme Council Defense meetings which might be relevant for the appellate proceedings. In the minutes of the 43th meeting of 29 August 1995, the defense found a trail leading to the documents that might be of help. According to the minutes from the 43th meeting, all officers, including the commander of the VJ 40th Personnel Center covering the Krajina area, were obliged to write ‘statements about the events in their areas of responsibility during the Croatian aggression against the RSK’ and send them to chief of the VJ General Staff Momcilo Perisic.

The defense lawyers contend that the documents ‘might contain’ information about the reasons why Serbs left Krajina which could support the defense case. The defense thus sent a request in late May 2011 to the Republic of Serbia through the Serbian embassy in the Netherlands, asking them to deliver the documents. Having received no answer by 15 June 2011, the defense sent a new request, to no avail. The defense was prompted to file a motion, asking the Appeals Chamber to compel Serbia to provide the documents by 15 July 2011. The defense listed the documents it is seeking or the indicia of their existence in a confidential annex.

Generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac were sentenced to 24 or 18 years respectively for their roles in the joint criminal enterprise headed by Croatian president Tudjman and aimed at a forcible and permanent expulsion of Serb civilians from Krajina. Ivan Cermak faced the same charges but was acquitted on all counts. Unlike the prosecution, the defense teams of Gotovina and Markac appealed against the judgment.