Source:http://www.un.org/icty/pressreal/bla-sumj000303e.htm
Accessed 03 April 2000

Summary of the ICTY Judgment on General Blaskic
[03 March 2000]

Part II

TEXT READ OUT BY JUDGE JORDA DURING THE HEARING

Part I

The Responsibility of the Accused
Guilt

Sentence

C. The responsibility of the accused

54. For all the facts other than the shelling of Zenica which we have just mentioned, how must the responsibility of the accused be assessed?

1. Preliminary observations

55. To begin with, the Trial Chamber wishes to make two observations.

56. The first is that the accused is not himself charged with having committed the physical act constituting the basis of any of the crimes in the indictment. In other words, General Blaskic is not charged with killing a Muslim by his own hand.

57. The second observation is that, in its reflections upon the crimes imputed to the accused, the Trial Chamber has taken note of the circumstances at the time and in particular the possibility that crimes were committed by Muslim forces. In this respect, the Trial Chamber deems that it was the Chamber itself which wished to hear the commanders of the 7th Muslim Brigade which was often associated with some of these crimes. It is not a question here of imputing them or not to such or such Muslim unit. Notwithstanding this, the Trial Chamber considers that it has received evidence of atrocities committed against Croatian civilians and that the perpetrators of those crimes must be prosecuted.

58. However, and this is fundamental, the Trial Chamber condemns the argument which would have one crime excused by another. The truly essential question which arises is whether General Blaskic ordered crimes to be committed or otherwise failed in his duties as a commander and whether the crimes were committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the Muslim civilian population.

2. The accused ordered that attacks be launched which resulted in crimes being committed for which he is responsible

or in any case aided or facilitated their commission and, moreover, did not take the reasonable measures which would have allowed the crimes to be prevented from being committed or the perpetrators thereof to be punished.

59. Going only by the documents available to it, the Trial Chamber must state in this respect that the accused developed a remarkable range and number of activities. In addition to the strictly military activities, General Blaskis took measures relating both to the protection of civilians and the channelling of humanitarian aid as well as relocating Croats and Muslims.

60. Nonetheless, this apparent intense activity poorly conceals the true nature of the orders which he gave to the troops under his authority and the failures of his authority as regards the conduct of his own troops. The analysis of the facts contradicts what the Defence presents as the actions of a highly professional officer who never ordered crimes be committed and who on the contrary tirelessly strove to prevent or to make amends for crimes.

(a) The authority of the accused

61. It is symptomatic to note that tension between the communities continued to rise from May 1992 to January 1993. However, the only truly effective measures taken by the accused consisted of setting up a solid chain of command throughout the territories under his command. The many orders produced at the hearings amply demonstrate that the accused wanted to establish firmly the authority of the Croatian forces in the region and his own authority over all these forces.

62. On 11 May 1992 for example, he signed an order stating that, and I quote, "the only lawful military units in the region of the municipality of Kiseljak are the HVO units". At the same time, and again I quote, "the TO is deemed to be unlawful in this region" (P312).

63. Furthermore, the accused claimed that he tried to professionalise an army made up of poorly trained troops and ascribed the crimes to elements which were uncontrolled or did not fall under his command.

64. Although the evidence confirms that General Blaskic did indeed concern himself with building a truly well structured army, it refutes however the theory of the lack or total absence of command authority. On the contrary, the information provided both by the Prosecution and the Defence shows that the accused meant to intervene in all areas by turning to all available forces including for example the civilian police where need be.

65. The analysis of the orders he received or issued shows that General Blaskic commanded all the HVO troops but also other units. Further, contrary to his assertion before the Trial Chamber, the chain of command operated satisfactorily.

i. HVO troops and other units

66. The Defence showed a chart explaining the connections between the various units and, in particular, the fact that the military police or some independent or special units, like the Vitezovi, did not fall under the authority of the accused but answered directly to the main staff in Mostar or the HZHB Ministry of Defence. Although they may have been detached to General Blaskic for point-specific operations, he could not issue combat orders to them or take any disciplinary measures against them. In any case, the authority that General Blaskic might have had could have been exercised only from the time the forces in question fell under his command.

67. The Trial Chamber categorically rejects these arguments, including the semantic debate according to which a "detached" unit was not an "attached" unit and vice-versa.

68. Let us take the example of Ahmici: according to the Defence argument and the explanations of the accused himself, the military police which the accused claimed were guilty of the crimes committed in that village was attached to him only as of 11:42 hours on 16 April 1993, the date and time the report allegedly placing the unit under General Blaskicís authority was received. What actually happened was completely different.

69. Several pieces of evidence attest to this. As of 19 January 1993, General Petkovic ordered that the Vitezovi be subordinated to the accused "in all respects".

In addition, on 15 April 1993 at 15:00 hours, right before central Bosnia went up in flames, the Vitezovi and the military police were detached to General Blaskic on orders from this same General Petkovic. In the afternoon of 15 April, at around 17:00 hours, according to his own statements, the accused organised a meeting with the military police and Vitezovi commanders.

70. By 10:00 hours on 15 April, General Blaskic had sent a "combat preparation order" to the military police and the Vitezovi and the HVO brigades in the operative zone. The order specifically requested that the police ensure that Muslim forces not block the main road connecting Travnik and Busovaca.

71. At 15:45 hours on 15 April, the accused sent to the Vitez HVO Brigade (the Viteska Brigade under the command of Mario Cerkez) and to the 4th military police battalion an order to inter alia "move to the highest level of combat preparation", to organise "at all levels an uninterrupted command system" and to be prepared to "engage in defensive action".

72. On 16 April at 1:30 hours, General Blaskic issued a "combat order" to the Viteska Brigade and to the Tvrtko independent units. The order stated that they should "occupy the defence region, block the villages and prevent any movement in and out". He specified that the forces of the 4th Military Police Battalion, the Nikola Subic Zrinksi Brigade (the HVO Busovaca Brigade) and the civilian police forces were also to participate in the combat. The order demanded that the forces be ready for action at 05:30 hours.

73. At 05:30 hours, Ahmici and many other villages were attacked. Barely a few hours later, about one hundred Muslim civilians in Ahmici and the other villages would be killed and burned and dozens of houses set on fire.

74. General Blaskic thus took a decision and ordered that his troops be launched, that is, the regular HVO troops, special or independent Vitezovi and Tvrtko troops, the "Jokers" and military police troops (or even civilian police). These troops attacked towns and villages, most of which were not defended, or only lightly, with the purpose of turning the Lasva Valley into Croatian territory.

75. Let us take the orders that General Blaskic issued for combat in the Kiseljak area.

Kiseljak: the accused claimed that he was isolated from it, that he had communications problems and that this made proper operation of the chain of command problematic. I will return to this later.

On 17 April 1993 at 09:10 hours, General Blaskic told the Kiseljak HVO Brigade to organise the closing off of some of the villages and to take control of Gomionica and Svinjarevo. In a second order dated 17 April at 23:45 hours, he ordered the capture of those two villages and the launching of an attack to take Bilalovac. He wrote to the brigade commander that the military and civilian police were to be used for the "cleansing", his term, of the ground.

76. The accused wanted to be sure that the cleansing would be carried out. In orders he fired up his troops by proclaiming that in Zenica the Muslim forces were massacring the Croats and crushing them with tanks. In addition, General Blaskic entrusted his men with a historic mission. He told them and I quote: "keep in mind that the lives of the Croats in the Lasva region depend on your mission. This region could become our grave if you do not demonstrate resolve".

77. Lastly, the accused was not as concerned with the quality of his subordinates as he would have people believe. The Defence thus characterised the Zuti (a Frankopan HVO Brigade unit from Guca Gora) as "Mafiosi". However, on 4 July 1993, the accused appointed the chief of the unit as deputy for the active forces in the Central Bosnian Operative Zone.

78. According to General Blaskicís statements, the same military police which committed the crimes in Ahmici in April 1993 would be used to attack Grbavica in September of that same year.

    ii. The chain of command

79. To demonstrate that the accused did not have the communications resources to ensure the proper operation of the chain of command, the Defence put forth the argument, in particular, that the accused was isolated within his Vitez headquarters and that he did not have a sufficient number of qualified officers available to him.

80. The Trial Chamber is prepared to acknowledge that General Blaskic may have had communications problems. At least, apparently. Many documents thus record requests for escorts to go from Vitez to Kiseljak sent to UNPROFOR by General Blaskic.

The Trial Chamber, however, has more evidence than it needs to note that the chain of command was operating satisfactorily. General Blaskic did not complain about an inability to communicate with his superiors but rather about an inability to communicate with his subordinates.

81. Moreover, these difficulties are much less significant than the accused claimed.

The Trial Chamber knows that helicopters were arriving in Vitez. It can acknowledge that there was relatively little radio equipment. Still, not all the telephone lines had been cut. In the middle of the conflict, General Blaskic was able to telephone the commander of the opposing forces directly. Several witnesses testified about the Croatian authoritiesí control over the telephone lines in all or some of the region. We also have proof that cellular telephones were available.

82. An analysis of the written documents is especially telling. It is interesting to note discrepancies between the same documents depending on whether they were produced by the Defence or the Prosecution. But that does not touch on the heart of the issue which lies in the unbelievable number of orders and reports issued or received by General Blaskic. We need merely consult the reference numbers provided to the Trial Chamber.

83. All of that operated very smoothly. I will return to the events in Kiseljak later. General Blaskic said that communications were not operating properly.

Nonetheless:

  • on 17 April at 09:10 hours, the accused asked the Ban Jelacic Brigade in Kiseljak to make preparations and to send in a report by 23:30 hours;
  • on 17 April he received the report;
  • on 17 April at 23:45 hours, General Blaskic issued the order to attack on 18 April at 05:30 hours.
  • on 18 April at 05:30 hours, the attack effectively began.

(b) Chronology of the events

84. The chronology of the events thus confirms that the attacks were organised. This is clear from the chronology itself and from the fact that, as the accused himself acknowledged, he took no measures upon learning that crimes had been committed. Let us consider the period April-August 1993.

85. On 15 April, General Blaskic was in Vitez and issued the orders to which we have referred.

On 16 April at 01:30 hours, he gave what he called the combat preparation order.

On 16 April at 05:30 hours, the HVO artillery went into action in Vitez, Stari Vitez, Ahmici, Santici, Pirici and Nadioci. The shelling was followed up immediately with infantry attacks.

During the morning of 16 April, the forces under the accusedís command attacked the municipality of Busovaca in the direction of Jelinak, Merdani and Putis.

On 17 April, the attacks continued and General Blaskic prepared the assaults on the municipality of Kiseljak.

In the small hours of 18 April, artillery was again used and, in accordance with a well established pattern, this was followed up by infantry attacks on Svinjarevo, Gomionica, Visnjica Ö

On 18 April a truck packed with hundreds of kilos of explosives blew up. This was intended to break the Muslim resistance in Stari Vitez.

On 18 April, Donja Veceriska was attacked. On 20 April, it was the turn of Gacice.

Around 20 April, General Blaskic was in control of the situation. He needed to reinforce his defences and, to do so, he used and would do again the Muslim detainees to dig trenches, particularly on the front-line.

The south of the municipality of Kiseljak was a more fragile zone. Simply stated, General Blaskic and his forces were in the west and the Serbian forces in the east. The Muslims forces however were in the north and south. The accused launched a further offensive in June. The pattern was the same: artillery followed by infantry. The villages of Grahovci, Han Ploca and Tulica fell victim to the crimes of his troops.

86. And when General Blaskic learned that crimes had been committed, what did he do? Nothing.

I will not say anything here about his assertion that he knew nothing of Ahmici until Colonel Stewart of UNPROFOR wrote to him to inform him of the horrors he had observed and demanded an investigation. Still, what did General Blaskic do?

There was no serious investigation. Instead, he issued a statement saying that the crimes were committed by Serbian forces that had infiltrated or by the Muslims themselves!

And when before this Trial Chamber he accused the military police, the Jokers, in particular, what new information did the accused put forth? He failed to say that the Joker commander, Vladimir Santic, had his office in the Hotel Vitez at his headquarters. He asserted however that he called for an investigation as early as 24 April. In fact, the witnesses confirmed that General Blaskic did so only on 8 May at the earliest and, I quote his written order of 10 May in which he said, "there are open rumours about the events in Ahmici".

The accused then explained that nothing had happened, that he had issued a reminder, and that the report transmitted to him by the Security and Information Service was incomplete.

However, he asked for another report only on 17 April 1993 and was allegedly told that the information had been transmitted to Mostar.

This satisfied General Blaskic because even when, between June and October 1994, he became the HVO deputy chief-of-staff responsible in particular for investigating war crimes, he took no definitive action.

Lastly, no soldier in the HVO, military police, the Jokers or any unit was ever punished for the massacre at Ahmici.

I will compare this attitude to a very simple fact. In the middle of the conflict on 16 April, the very day of the attack on Ahmici, General Blaskic sent a protest to UNPROFOR because a United Nations armoured vehicle had knocked down the fence of a church.

3. A massive or systematic attack against the Muslim civilian population

  1. The evidence produced for the Trial Chamber by both the Prosecution and Defence demonstrates that General Blaskic ordered attacks and actions which resulted in crimes being committed for which he is responsible and that he was part of a design whose purpose was the persecution of the Muslim population.
  2. (a) Political will

88. It must first be stated that the HVO was not only a military but also a civilian structure and, as such, took decisions regarding the organisation of life in the town. Returning to the example of Kiseljak, the municipal crisis staff decided on 25 June that the "Executive Committee of the Municipal Assembly of Kiseljak shall now be called the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) of Kiseljak". On 25 May, that same crisis staff cancelled the bank account of the territorial defence and ordered that a bank account be opened for the Kiseljak HVO.

89. By accepting his responsibilities as HVO commander for the defence of Kiseljak, but especially as HVO commander for the Central Bosnian Operative Zone, and then exercising these commands, General Blaskic was perfectly aware that the scope of his activity was not and could not be a strictly military one.

90. The nexus between the military and political aspects can be seen in the ultimatums issued by Mate Boban in January 1993 and by Dario Kordic in April 1993. These orders were limited not only to calls for the municipalities of Vitez, Busovaca or Kiseljak to revert to the Croats but also demanded that the Muslims lay down their arms.

91. Moreover, General Blaskic participated in many public meetings alongside the politicians with openly nationalist views. Many photographs attest to this fact and several make it possible to assert that the "politicians" were dressed in military uniform. On 22 September 1992, the accused was a member of the interim Presidency together with Dario Kordic, Anto Valenta and Ignac Kostroman and participated in the HVO meeting in the municipalities of central Bosnia during which inter alia the participants requested that a Croatian bank be established.

92. In fact, General Blaskic was in permanent contact with the politicians. Anto Valenta had his office at the Hotel Vitez which, as already stated, served as the accusedís headquarters. During the negotiations with the European Mission or with UNPROFOR, General Blaskic was frequently alongside Ignac Kostroman.

93. One detail is revealing: on 25 May 1993, the accused co-authored a letter with Anto Valenta in which they complained to UNPROFOR that it, the ECMM, the UNHCR and the ICRC were using too many "Muslim translators".

94. General Blaskic was perfectly well aware of what policy was being followed.

(b) A policy of discrimination

95. This policy clearly discriminated against Muslims. Everything Muslim was to be done away with or replaced.

96. I have just spoken of the desire expressed by the participants during a meeting co-chaired by the accused during which demands for a Croatian bank were put forward. It is interesting to note that the Muslim bank in Vitez would be destroyed by an explosion the day before the opening of the Croatian bank.

97. The Muslims were systematically excluded from the organs of political life.

98. The Muslim places of worship were destroyed, or at least damaged or plundered. This was the case for mosques whose minarets, in particular, were methodically destroyed, religious centres or even those places where the dead were washed before burial.

99. Lastly, life was made impossible for the Muslims because their homes were destroyed. The Trial Chamber points out that this destruction was in no way haphazard or caused by alleged military necessity. The Muslim houses were targeted with precision because, as shown in many documents, the neighbouring Croatian houses were almost always left intact.

III. GUILT

  1. General Blaskic, I now ask that you rise.
  2. General Blaskic, you have been found guilty of all the crimes ascribed to you except for the shelling of Zenica.

You are guilty, General Blaskic:

of having ordered the commission of a crime against humanity for persecution of the Muslim civilians of Bosnia in the municipalities of Vitez, Busovaca and Kiseljak and, in particular, in the towns and villages of Ahmici, Nadioci, Pirici, Santici, Ocehnici, Vitez, Stari Vitez, Donja Veceriska, Gacice, Loncari, Grbavica, Behrici, Svinjarevo, Gomionica, Gromiljak, Polje Visnjica, Visnjica, Rotilj, Tulica and Han Ploca/Grahovci between 1 May 1992 and 31 January 1994 (count 1) by:

  • attacks on towns and villages;
  • murder and serious bodily injury;
  • the destruction and plunder of property and, in particular, of institutions dedicated to religion or education;
  • inhumane treatment of civilians and, in particular, their being taken hostage and used as human shields;
  • the forcible transfer of civilians;

and by these same acts, in particular, as regards an international armed conflict, you committed:

- a violation of the laws of customs of war under Article 3 of the Statute and recognised by Article 51(2) of Additional Protocol I: unlawful attacks on civilians (count 3);

- a violation of the laws or customs of war under Article 3 of the Statute and recognised by Article 52(1) of Additional Protocol I: unlawful attacks on civilian objects (count 4);

  • a grave breach, under Article 2(a) of the Statute: wilful killing (count 5);
  • a violation of the laws or customs of war under Article 3 and recognised by Article 3(1)(a) of the Geneva Conventions: murder (count 6);
  • a crime against humanity, under Article 5(a) of the Statute: murder (count 7);
  • a grave breach under Article 2(c) of the Statute: wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health (count 8);
  • a violation of the laws or customs of war under Article 3 and recognised by Article 3(1)(a) of the Geneva Conventions: violence to life and person (count 9);
  • a crime against humanity under Article 5(i) of the Statute: inhumane acts (count 10);
  • a grave breach under Article 2(d) of the Statute: extensive destruction of property (count 11);
  • a violation of the laws or customs of war under Article 3(b) of the Statute: devastation not justified by military necessity (count 12);
  • a violation of the laws or customs of war under Article 3(e) of the Statute: plunder of public or private property (count 13);
  • a violation of the laws or customs of war under Article 3(d) of the Statute: destruction or wilful damage done to institutions dedicated to religion or education (count 14);
  • a grave breach under Article 2(b) of the Statute: inhuman treatment (count 15);
  • a violation of the laws or customs of war under Article 3 of the Statute and recognised by Article 3(1)(a) of the Geneva Conventions: cruel treatment (count 16);
  • a grave breach under Article 2(h) of the Statute: taking civilians as hostages (count 17);
  • a violation of the laws or customs of war under Article 3 of the Statute and recognised by Article 3(1)(b) of the Geneva Conventions: taking of hostages (count 18);
  • a grave breach, under Article 2(b) of the Statute: inhuman treatment (count 19);
  • a violation of the laws or customs of war under Article 3 of the Statute and recognised by Article 3(1)(a) of the Geneva Conventions: cruel treatment (count 20).

In any case, as a commander, you failed to take the necessary and reasonable measures which would have prevented the commission of those crimes or the punishment of the perpetrators thereof.

IV. SENTENCE

102. General Blaskic, as the Trial Chamber explains in its Judgement, it took into account in determining the sentence all the circumstances which may be considered aggravating or mitigating. You were very young at the time of the events and you were responsible for the Central Bosnian Operative Zone. The evidence presented to the Trial Chamber allows it to identify the role you played. It also makes clear that you must not bear alone the responsibility for the atrocities committed.

103. The crimes you committed, General Blaskic, are extremely serious. The acts of war carried out with disregard for international humanitarian law and in hatred of other people, the villages reduced to rubble, the houses and stables set on fire and destroyed, the people forced to abandon their homes, the lost and broken lives are unacceptable. The international community must not tolerate such crimes, no matter where they may be perpetrated, no matter who the perpetrators are and no matter what the reasons for them may be. If armed conflict is unavoidable, those who have the power to take decisions and those who carry them out must ensure that the most basic rules governing the law of nations are respected. International courts, today this Tribunal, tomorrow the International Criminal Court, must appropriately punish all those, and especially those holding the highest positions, who transgress these principles.

104. General Blaskic, you showed no respect for these rules and this is something which you know. Consequently, the Trial Chamber sentences you to a prison sentence of 45 years.

Document compiled by Dr S D Stein
Last update 03/04/00
Stuart.Stein@uwe.ac.uk
©S D Stein

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