Former Bosnian Croat president Jadranko Prlic and five co-defendants were jailed on Wednesday for between 10 and 25 years for murdering and deporting Muslims in Bosnia in the early 1990s to create a “greater Croatian state”.
The six former top Bosnian Croat officials faced 26 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for their roles in the brutal conflict which formed part of the greater war that broke out after Yugoslavia crumbled in 1991 and in which 100,000 people were killed.
Prlic, 53, and three others were found guilty of 22 counts by the Yugoslav war crimes court in The Hague while two accused were acquitted of some of the charges.
“The trial chamber is satisfied that Jadranko Prlic made a significant contribution to a joint criminal enterprise and to a criminal purpose to drive out the Muslim population,” French judge Jean-Claude Antonetti told the court.
“The trial chamber therefore sentences you to 25 years in prison,” Antonetti said as Prlic, dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and light-blue striped tie, stood and listened without showing any emotion.
The former president and later also prime minister of the self-proclaimed Bosnian Croat state of Herceg-Bosna has been on trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) since April 2006.
His co-defendants were his former defence minister Bruno Stojic, 58, and four senior military officials: Slobodan Praljak, 68, Milivoj Petkovic, 63, Valentin Coric, 56, and Berislav Pusic, 60.
At the end of one of the largest trials ever conducted by the ICTY, the other five were sentenced for terms ranging between 10 and 20 years.
Antonetti said in a record 2,600-page judgement that Bosnian Croat troops “fought alongside Croatian troops” and fell under command of Croatia, pointing the finger at Zagreb’s role in the war.
The judge said the six men were all part of a plan which ultimately wanted to establish reunification with Croatia. In order to achieve that it was “necessary to modify the ethnic composition” of the land claimed by Bosnian Croats.
Prosecutors have accused the six of wanting to “politically and military subjugate, permanently remove and ethnically cleanse Bosnian Muslims and other non-Croats who lived in areas on the territory of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina which were claimed to be part of the Croatian Community.”
This, Antonetti said, they achieved by force, intimidation and terror “by conducting mass arrests of Bosnian Muslims who were then either murdered, beaten, sexually assaulted, robbed of their property and otherwise abused”.
The suspects, who handed themselves in to the tribunal voluntarily, had all pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The bloody 1992-95 war in Bosnia mainly pitted Bosnian Muslims against Bosnian Serbs, but for a period also saw vicious fighting between Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats.
In 1992 the Bosnian Croats established a Croatian entity known as the HVO which was both an army and a government. In August of 1993 they proclaimed the Croatian “state” of Herceg-Bosna in Bosnia.