Croatian president awards struggle crimes suspect regardless of criticism

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Despite mounting criticism, Croatian President Zoran Milanovic has introduced an award to a Bosnian Croat struggle crimes suspect “for his contribution to the liberation of Croatia”.

Milanovic embellished Zlatan Mijo Jelic, a retired normal of the Croatian Defense Council (HVO), at a ceremony on Tuesday within the Croatian metropolis of Knin marking the 25th anniversary of the nation’s victory over insurgent Serbs throughout the struggle in 1995.

HVO was the navy of the Croat wartime secessionist Herceg-Bosna territory, which has been declared a joint felony enterprise by the International Criminal Tribunal for the previous Yugoslavia (ICTY). The purpose of this enterprise was to create a Greater Croatia on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s territory by ethnically cleaning Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) from the area, in accordance with the ICTY.

At the ceremony, Milanovic additionally awarded 4 brigades of the HVO and the Special Police Unit of Herceg-Bosna.

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Bosnia’s state prosecution indicted Jelic in 2016 over alleged struggle crimes towards Bosniaks within the southern metropolis of Mostar between 1993 and 1994.

According to the fees, Jelic ordered the commander of the Croat-run Heliodrom detention camp in Mostar to have Croat forces take Bosniak detainees to the entrance line in and round Mostar for compelled labour work.

The prosecution estimates that at the least 50 individuals had been killed and 188 had been wounded in consequence, whereas some 40 individuals had been tortured and bodily abused by Croat forces.

Jelic has refused to face trial and denies the fees. He moved to Croatia in 2012 and renounced his Bosnian citizenship, in accordance with Trial International, an NGO combating impunity for worldwide crimes.

The ICTY has confirmed that Croat forces commonly took Bosniak detainees from Croat-run camps for labour work throughout the internationally-armed battle within the early 1990s. The detainees had been compelled to dig trenches on the entrance strains, the place they had been used as human shields.

Eric Gordy, professor at University College London’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies, advised Al Jazeera that the Croatian authorities’s public shows of help for alleged perpetrators of such acts “shows contempt for the public, who they seem to think will excuse demonstrated criminality in the name of ethnic pride”.

‘Harsh actuality of Croatian historical past’

In the times previous to the ceremony, the Bosniak and Croat members of Bosnia’s presidential administration warned towards the “humiliating” move, saying it might additional deteriorate relations between the 2 nations.

Bosnia’s opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP), of which the Croatian president can also be a member, had additionally condemned the plan to award Jelic.

Croatia celebrates 25th Anniversary of Operation Storm

Croatia’s President Zoran Milanovic mentioned the criticism is an try ‘to painting the Croatian liberation struggle as a felony enterprise’ [Stipe Majic/Anadolu Agency]

Croatia’s Youth Initiative for Human Rights, in the meantime, despatched an open letter to Milanovic, demanding that the president revoke state decorations beforehand introduced for convicted Croat struggle criminals and create a regional fee for establishing details about struggle crimes.

“[With this,] you will show that you are aware and confronted with the fact that war crimes committed by members of the Croatian Army and armed formations are not political constructions of prosecutors and ICTY judicial councils, but the harsh reality of Croatian history,” the letter acknowledged.

“Let Croatia be a country which will in the region, Europe and in the world be known for successfully building peace and not for insisting on the relativisation of war crimes and criminals,” it mentioned.

Despite the appeals to rethink his resolution, Milanovic on the ceremony known as the criticism an try “to portray the Croatian liberation war as a criminal enterprise”.

“Luckily … it didn’t work. The Croatian war was a just war … 25 years since the war, it’s my honour to decorate Croatian troops from Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Milanovic mentioned.

Croatian leaders ‘key members in joint felony enterprise’

In a 2017 ruling, the ICTY confirmed that then-senior leaders of the Republic of Croatia “were key participants in a joint criminal enterprise to ethnically cleanse Bosnian Muslims through the commission of crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and other war crimes”.

The ICTY affirmed that the aggression towards Bosnia was an “international armed conflict because Croatia exercised overall control over the HVO, which committed widespread crimes”.

“More senior and mid-level officials and commanders must still be brought to justice for these crimes. Many are within reach of Croatian judicial authorities,” the assertion learn.

From 1992 to 1995, Bosnia was attacked by each Serb and Croat forces aiming to carve it up right into a Greater Serbia and a Greater Croatia, respectively.

Reuf Bajrovic, a former politician in Bosnia and co-chair of the US-Europe Alliance, known as Milanovic a “war crimes denier” whose obvious purpose “is to redefine the nature of the war in Bosnia by revising Croatia’s role in the aggression against Bosnia”.

“The most disturbing aspect of Milanovic’s revisionism is the fact that EU [European Union] officials have not criticised similar behaviour of Croatian officials in the past,” Bajrovic advised Al Jazeera.

No EU official has made any comment on the controversial awarding ceremony.

“Germany’s role is especially important here because it has a historic responsibility to raise its voice against glorification of international aggression, such as Serbia’s and Croatia’s against Bosnia,” Bajrovic mentioned, referring to Germany’s historical past with the Holocaust.

Bosnia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Bisera Turkovic mentioned that bringing these accused of struggle crimes earlier than courts in Bosnia has failed in lots of situations as an enormous variety of them have fled to Serbia and Croatia, the place they continue to be in hiding.

“Dual citizenships with those countries made it impossible for the [Bosnian] Prosecution Office to bring them back to Bosnia, since both countries refused to extradite their citizens for standing trials for crimes committed elsewhere,” Turkovic mentioned.

“Honouring and decorating potential war criminals sheds darkness onto the victims’ quest and demands for justice,” Turkovic added. “This insincerity of the Croatian president’s intent to award the medal to someone who actively escapes justice continues to permeate the ‘injustice framework’ and shows no signs of weakening, which worsens our prospects for regional reconciliation.”