Statement by the Youth Initiative for Human Rights – Croatia on the ICTY Appeals Judgment in the operation “Storm” case

After the Appeals Judgment for Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač, the Youth Initiative for Human Rights – Croatia highlights that even 17 years later, the most serious crimes committed during the operation “Storm” are without punishment while the victims are without justice and recognition.

Judge Fausto Pocar in his dissenting opinion assessed the Judgment as one which contradicts any sense of justice. Such a sense of injustice is shared today also by the families of victims of operation “Storm” and everyone who was affected by it. Because of the systematic impunity for crimes of operation “Storm”, we must be aware of the responsibility of Croatian institutions for such a condition.

Descriptions of factual findings on the crimes committed in August and September of 1995 from the Trial Judgment are still valid. They depict numerous crimes of murder, robbery, arson, etc.

The Appeals Chamber overthrew the Trial Chamber’s finding about the Joint Criminal Enterprise (JCE) with the goal of permanent removal of Croatian Serbs from the formerly occupied territories. It is difficult to understand this decision in the context of numerous evidence about massive number of refugees from the formerly occupied areas and the large number of war crimes described in the first instance. The majority of judges in Appeals Chamber put the most emphasis on the examination of the nature of possibly unlawful shelling of the four towns. At the same time, very little attention in the majority Judgment has been paid to the analysis of other elements that the Trial Chamber as well as the dissenting judges in the Appeals Chamber noted as relevant elements of the JCE, i.e.: (a) Brioni meeting, (b) crimes committed in August and September, (c) the discriminatory policy for the prevention of return of refugees, (d) property law, and later statements made by Croatian politicians that clearly represent a continuation of the intent from the Brioni meeting. For these very reasons, the dissenting opinions of judges Pocar and Carmel Agius impose the need for a scrutiny of the Judgment from the perspective of the rights of victims.

Now, more than ever before, there is a need that the domestic judiciary prosecutes the crimes described in this process as well as other crimes reported by citizens between 1995 and today. If the crimes from the operation “Storm” remain unprosecuted, this will virtually irreversibly confirm the existence of a discriminatory system and then a stigma of these crimes will permanently remain over Croatia. In this regard we welcome the statements made by President Ivo Josipović, Prime Minister Zoran Milanović and Foreign and European Affairs Minister Vesna Pusić who all announced that these further prosecutions will take place before Croatian institutions. Their statements also have a symbolic importance to our fellow citizens – victims of these crimes, who are still waiting for justice due to lack of well paced and professional work of Croatian judicial institutions.

However, although the ICTY has found that it is no joint criminal enterprise, it is clear from the number of established crimes, an extremely large number of refugees, and burned and destroyed properties that this cannot be viewed as individual isolated cases. This situation leaves the domestic judiciary with an even more difficult task to prosecute not only the direct perpetrators of the crimes, but that it seeks to establish command responsibility of those who allowed the situation in which these crimes were committed.