The United Nations overturned the convictions of two former Croatian generals who were convicted of committing war crimes, including ethnic cleansing, during the end of the Balkan wars in the 1990s. The verdict triggered praise in Croatia and outrage in Serbia.
In 2011, former Gens. Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac were sentenced to 24 and 18 years in prison, respectively. They were convicted of committing murder, lootings, and persecution in 1995.
But in a surprise ruling Friday, a court in The Hague found that the court that sentenced the two “erred in finding that artillery attacks” ordered by the generals were unlawful, according to a statement.
The court “majority also held that the Trial Chamber erred in finding the existence of a joint criminal enterprise whose purpose was the permanent and forcible removal of Serb civilians” in the Republic of Serbian Krajina, which was set up after the fall of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s and integrated in Croatia in 1998.
An Italian judge, who was a member of the panel, did not agree to acquit the two generals. Hague Tribunal Appeals Chamber Judge Fausto Pocar told a Serbia-based broadcaster there were “only several paragraphs, without a careful consideration of the documents and an appropriate explanation.”
Several other charges against the men, who are considered war criminals in Serbia and heroes in Croatia, were dropped and they were released by the court. Many Croatians believe the generals waged war against Serbian forces out of self-defense.
The two generals were also accused of expelling hundreds of thousands of Serb nationals from Croatia.
Croatian President Ivo Josipovic hailed The Hague’s decision as it “confirmed what all of us in Croatia have believed in—that Generals Gotovina and Markac are innocent,” according to a statement.
“Croatia did not commit ethnic cleansing; and that the fight of our defenders for freedom was just and honorable,” the statement reads.
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