Verdict on Generals Ademi and Norac Case brings no Justice to Victims

The trial of two Croatian generals, Rahim Ademi and Mirko Norac, for crimes committed against civilians and prisoners of war in theMedak Pocket was conducted with efficiency and a high degree of professionalism; the Presiding Judge prevented the politicisation of the trial and gave the victims who participated in the trial dignity. However, the verdict reached on 30 May 2008, though it established that war crimes against Serbian civilians and prisoners of war had been committed in 1993, ignored the facts pointing to the responsibility of the defendants.

As a result Mirko Norac was acquitted and Rahim Ademi was punished very leniently. The victims, who testified before the Zagreb County Court, feel humiliated because they expected the court to hand down a just verdict, which would bring the victims and the defendants justice.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague transferred this case to the Croatian judiciary in November 2005. After almost a year of trial, the Zagreb County Court announced the verdict on 30 May 2008 acquitting defendant Ademi of all charges and acquitting defendant Mirko Norac of the charges of ordering attacks by whatever means, thus causing damage to civilians and their property. Defendant Norac was, however, found guilty of failing to prevent, and thus supporting and encouraging, the killing of civilians, the plundering of property and the killing and torturing of prisoners of war. He was convicted to five years imprisonment on each of the counts. The court then handed down a single penalty of seven years in prison. The Prosecution failed to prove that defendants Ademi and Norac had been in command of the special police unit in whose area of responsibility a great number of Serbian civilians had been killed.

The court accepted that Ademi, as the Deputy Corps Commander in Gospić, had limited command responsibility due to operational activities of the Croatian Army Chief of Staff’s Envoy, Admiral Davor Domazet. It is true that defendant Ademi was put aside as a commander in the Croatian Army and that his authorities were limited, but the court failed to give a detailed explanation as to why it did not consider an officer, who had issued all relevant orders for the Pocket 93 operation, including the order to attack, and who actively participated in the preparation of the operation and withdrawal of the Croatian Army, as part of the chain of command. It is also unclear why the court did not accept the fact that defendant Norac was responsible for the non-selective and excessive artillery attacks, since the probative procedure clearly indicated that a vast amount of artillery ammunition was used during the attack and that Norac himself ordered that the amount of ammunition used should be four times higher than usual. He was convicted for the events in the Medak Pocket from 10 until 19 September 1993, but not for the crimes committed on the very day of the offensive, 9 September 1993. This conclusion comes from the Trial Chamber’s opinion that one who fails to prevent crimes, cannot be responsible for the initial crimes, but rather for crimes that followed because it was the inactivity of the defendant that supported and encouraged them. The Presiding Judge explained that the defendant did not order crimes, but that he failed to prevent them, and that he was very young at the time the crimes were committed (26 years of age) and a long period of time had passed since then. It is noticeable that the Trial Chamber did not acknowledge the existence of aggravating circumstances, even though defendant Norac had already been convicted for the same criminal offence, which points to the pattern of his criminal behaviour. Finally, with regard to joining these already mild jail sentences, the Trial Chamber was too lenient to the defendant convicting him to only seven years in prison, out of the possible maximum sentence of 9 years and 11 months.

The conduct of the Prosecutor deserves the most criticism. Taking over the indictment from the Hague Tribunal, the Prosecutor failed to conduct an investigation and clarify the role of the defendants and other persons, such as Admiral Davor Domazet Loša, Special Police Colonel Željko Sačić and General Mladen Markač who participated in the event in the capacity of commanders. The Prosecutor instead filed an immediate indictment in which he insisted that the Pocket 93 Operation was a legitimate military operation, thus simplifying the criminal action, charging Ademi and Norac not for ordering but rather abandoning their duty to prevent crimes. This was in contradiction with statements given by certain witnesses, officers of the Croatian Army, who stated that the aim of the action was the persecution and deterrence of the Serbian population. They also stated that anti-tank mines, used to destroy homes, were a strictly controlled resource and that they could not have been used without an order coming from the highest level. The Prosecutor, Antun Kvakan, acted passively in a series of situations (proposing evidence, asking questions, raising objections, etc), leaving space for the Defence Council’s initiatives and intending, probably, to use their contradiction to reach the goals of the Prosecution. The Prosecutor’s indifference was obvious when the Presiding Judge stated that he had no power to transfer victims mentioned in one count of the indictment to another count of the indictment. He tried to suggest to the Prosecutor that he did not adjust the indictment with the results of the probative procedure. In addition, even though the trial of persons charged under command responsibility is an international obligation of the Republic of Croatia, and even though the probative procedure pointed to the possible responsibility of other persons (members of military formations), the Prosecutor showed no interest in bringing other commanders and direct perpetrators of crimes in the Medak Pocket to justice. Further investigation would make known the other responsible commanders and direct perpetrators of crimes, such as arson and mining of houses, killing of elderly, concealing and incinerating defiled bodies, and throwing knives at a hanged, but still alive, captured Serb soldier.