Photo via Sense Agency
The prime minister of Croatia has confirmed that a wartime commander of the Bosnian Croat, Slobodan Praljak, has died after drinking poison at an appeals hearing at a UN court.
Praljak is one of the six former military and political leaders who were appealing their sentences in The Hague. He died in a local hospital.
The 72-year-old leaned back his head and drank from a glass or flask as the presiding judge read that his 20-year prison sentence had been sustained.
After drinking, Praljak said: “Judges, I am not a war criminal, I reject the verdict with contempt.” The presiding judge then requested a doctor and stopped the proceedings.
The supposed courtroom suicide, which was broadcasted on a video feed, came in the last minutes of the final judgement at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which is set to close next month.
Croatian TV reported: “Former head of the chief headquarters of the Croatian Defence Council, General Slobodan Praljak, died in a hospital in The Hague after he drank poison in a courtroom after the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia confirmed his 20-year sentence for war crimes.”
Representatives of the UN court and officials from the Dutch hospital refused to comment on Praljak’s condition.
Carmel Agius, the presiding Judge, discontinued the hearings and paramedics rushed to the courtroom, which was declared to be a crime scene by Dutch authorities. As forensic examination got underway, the courtroom was closed off, and the public was commanded to leave.
Telling the guards to lower the blinds and cover a glass-partition separating the court from the public, Agius said: “Don’t take away the glass.”
In the chaotic moments that happened later, paramedics and guards raced in and out of the UN courtroom. Ambulances were seen leaving the UN tribunal. However, there was no formal confirmation regarding the condition of Praljak.
A brief of the judgement, which was also ruling on charges against five other suspects, continued more than two hours after Praljak said that he had poisoned himself.
The said incident detracted the appeals ruling, which was significant for Croatia, where parliament was postponed so that lawmakers could follow the reading of the verdict.
The court confirmed convictions of Praljak and the five other Bosnian Croats: the political leader of the Croatian province of Bosnia, Jadranko Prlic, along with police and military figures Milivoj Petrovic, Bruno Stojic, Berislav Pusic, and Valentin Coric.
Judges confirmed findings that a criminal conspiracy was involved that included the regime of neighbouring Croatia under Franjo Tudjman, then-President, with the goal of “ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population” on the parts of Bosnia to secure Croatian domination.
On Wednesday, the defendants received sentences that range from 10 to 25 years. The said decision cannot be appealed.
Dragan Covic, the chairman of the inter-ethnic presidency of Bosnia, a Croat, stated: “He showed before the whole world what kind of sacrifice he is ready to make to prove that he is not a war criminal.”
The ICTY that was established in 1993 by the UN Security Council accused 161 war crimes suspects from Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Kosovo, and Serbia. Of the 83 people that were convicted, over 60 of them were ethnic Serbs.
In March 2006, the former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, the court’s lead suspect, died due to a heart attack, months prior a ruling in his genocide case.
Last week, Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military commander, was said to be guilty of genocide by the UN war crimes tribunal and was sentenced to life in prison for his role in ethnic cleansing and massacres during the war of Bosnia.