The defense of the former Croatian special police commander contends that the Trial Chamber’s judgment will fall down like a ‘house of cards’ and the accused will be acquitted. The prosecution highlighted Markac’s role in the planning of the expulsion of Serbs from Krajina, the unlawful shelling of Gracac, the murder of civilians and destruction of their property. The two accused addressed the Appeals Chamber in different languages to convey similar messages

Mladen Markac in the courtroomMladen Markac in the courtroom

As the appellate hearing in the Operation Storm case continued, the defense of the former Croatian special police commander Mladen Markac presented its arguments challenging the Trial Chamber’s findings in the judgment for crimes against Serbs during and after Operation Storm. The Trial Chamber sentenced Markac to 18 and General Ante Gotovina to 24 years in prison for those crimes. Markac’s defense supported the arguments presented by Gotovina’s defense this morning, challenging the Trial Chamber’s judgment, adding some vivid illustrations.

As did Gotovina’s defense, Markac’s defense argued that the Trial Chamber’s finding on the unlawful artillery attack on civilians in Krajina was untenable. According to Markac’s defense, most of the 150 shells fired on the orders of the special police commander on Gracac impacted near military targets. If the Appeals Chamber agrees that there was no unlawful shelling, it will be compelled to find that the joint criminal enterprise aimed at eliminating Serbs from Krajina didn’t exist, defense counsel John Jones argued.

‘The Trial Chamber’s judgment is like a house of cards that will fall down once the finding about the unlawful artillery attack is dismissed’, Jones said. He compared the judgment with ‘a knitted sweater’ which will unravel if you pull out ‘the main strand’, the unlawful shelling. In short, without unlawful shelling, there can be no joint criminal enterprise and Markac’s involvement in it.

In its response, the prosecution said that in late July 1995 Markac attended the Brijuni meeting where a decision was made to expel Serb civilians. Markac subsequently issued an order to his forces to treat the whole of Gracac as a military target. He thus contributed to the implementation of the joint criminal enterprise. Also, as the prosecution noted, Markac failed to do anything to prevent the special police which went on a rampage in this town in Lika on 5 and 6 August 1995, looting and destroying property, although he was right there. Similar arguments can be made regarding the destruction of Donji Lapac and Ramljane, and the killing of civilians and torching of the village of Grubori. The prosecution alleged and the Trial Chamber found that Markac tried to cover up those crimes.

Presiding judge Theodor Meron briefly interrupted the prosecution’s argument, asking to what extent the Krajina leadership’s decision to urge the people to evacuate contributed to the Serbs’ exodus from Krajina. Prosecutor Ingrid Elliot replied that the decision did not have any impact for all intents and purposes because it was issued on 4 August 1995 at 5 pm. By that time, most of the people had already joined the columns of refugees that began forming in the early morning, when the artillery attack was launched. Gotovina’s defense lawyer Misetic revisited the issue, claiming this was nothing but the prosecution’s ‘fancy’: there was no evidence the most of the civilians did in fact leave their homes before 5pm that day.

At the end of the hearing, the accused were invited to address the Appeals Chamber. Former Split Military District commander Ante Gotovina decided to speak in French. As a human being, Gotovina said, ‘I regret the loss of lives but I cannot be held responsible for other people’s crimes and mistakes’. Gotovina admitted that the decision to evade justice for years was wrong. As he insisted, it cannot be proven that he ‘ever wanted or agreed that a civilian or a soldier be killed only because they were ethnic Serbs’. As Gotovina said, ‘I am an honest officer who tried to do my best in difficult circumstances’.

After Gotovina concluded his address, Mladen Markac took the floor. He said he was ‘surprised with the claims made about Operation Storm as they have nothing to do with facts’. Markac insisted he was ‘not a member’ of a joint criminal enterprise. Before he came to The Hague, nobody had told him anything about the existence of such an enterprise, Markac explained. He was likewise unaware of any unlawful acts by his special police. ‘As a human being and a humanist’, Markac deeply sympathizes with the victims but does not feel he is guilty. He expects the judges to deliver a just judgment.

As the presiding judge brought the appellate hearing to a close, he indicated the final judgment would be rendered ‘in due course’.