Concerning the final verdict of the ICTY against Croatian Community/Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia (HRHB) officials and commanders of the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) for the so-called Joint Criminal Enterprise (JCE) in the period between 1993 and 1994, the Croatian National Assembly (HNS) persistently stands with the undeniable and widely accepted standard of free and impartial judiciary for which guilt can be exclusively individual, whereas collective responsibility does not exist as a legal category. Therefore, we consider that the hypothesis of the JCE is an ideological and political construct that has no foundation in the international law.
Moreover, we remind everyone that one of the tasks of the Hague Tribunal has been to contribute towards achieving peace and reconciliation on the territory of the former Yugoslavia. The use of the JCE thesis that implies a collective guilt of the people certainly does not contribute to neither peace nor reconciliation in BiH. The selective application of the JCE thesis to the civil and military leadership of Croats in BiH and Republic of Croatia, not only that it does not contribute to peace and reconciliation at all levels, but it also deepens the gap and mistrust between the constituent peoples of BiH as well as its neighbouring states. We say that all three aspects of the JCE could have been applied to the civilian and military leadership of Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as to other states that were, in different ways, involved in the war in BiH.
Therefore, we repeat that the JCE is an absurd accusation and ideological as well as political construct created because the prosecution did not have concrete evidence and facts at its disposal which would have permitted to determine the individual guilt of the accused HRHB officials and the HVO commanders.
Only considering these facts it is possible to understand the act of General Slobodan Praljak today in the Hague courtroom. As an innocent, proud and highly moral person, General Praljak has been facing unfounded accusations and monstrous slanders against his human dignity and military honor for 14 years. These humiliating accusations also slandered the ideals for which he fought to defend the people he belonged to, and it even accuses the people for whose freedom and survival he fought. Believing that reason, truth, and justice would ultimately overcame the assumptions and ideologically and politically constructed accusations, General Praljak had intelligently, patiently and credibly led a 14-year long legal battle.
When his last hope that his arguments and evidence will be taken into consideration disappeared, he decided to do a heroic, but tragic, act of sacrificing his own life. He has once again shown that he was ready to die for the ideals of truth, justice and honor. This act was not an expression of any weakness, but of moral strength, honor, truthfulness, and idealism. These characteristics marked all his life, his personality, and his work. His words: “Slobodan Praljak is not a war criminal. I reject your verdict with contempt!” will never be forgotten by Croats in BiH. These words will remain as a constant warning and an inspiration for all of us to continue, with determination and strength, the struggle for the constitutionality and equality of the Croat people in BiH.
Deeply shaken by General Praljak’s act, but aware of the political responsibility towards the Croat people and the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina, we are especially alert about the possibility that the JCE verdict, as an obvious ideological and political construct, could be used as an argument for continuing the long practice of legal and political violence against Croats in BiH. In practice, this means violations of constitutional, institutional and political rights which belong to Croats in BiH, which have been continually done by Bosniak-Bosnian unitarian, majoritarian, hegemonistic and chauvinistic politicians supported by certain representatives of the international community in BiH. We want to remind all of them that Croats in BiH are a constituent people. The constituent status of Croats is recorded in the Dayton Agreement and the Constitution of BiH, and confirmed by repeated decisions of the Constitutional Court of BiH. Therefore, in the future, any relativization and negation of this constituent status will be considered as an anti-Dayton and anti-constitutional activity against which we will fight with all available legal, political and civic instruments.
Furthermore we reject all allegations that the Republic of Croatia participated in the international armed conflict in BiH as completely unfounded, and we firmly believe that all the military and political activities that the Republic of Croatia has undertaken in BiH were in line with international law and legitimate military and political interests of Croats in BiH, as well as the Republic of Croatia as a state, and that these activities were not, in any of their segments, aimed at denying the statehood, independence and integrity of BiH in its internationally recognized borders. Moreover, we believe that the aggression against the Republic of Croatia has been carried out from the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina and that, thanks to the logistical, humanitarian, political and military assistance from the Republic of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina has survived as a whole country. Without the help of the Republic of Croatia, the future of BiH as a whole and the Muslim/Bosniak people in BiH in particular would certainly be much harder and more tragic.
In order to inform both local and international public about the social and political context of not only the events mentioned in the verdict, but also of the existing and future responses to the verdict itself, we feel the need and obligation to point to the following facts and observations.
Croat MPs in the Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina supported the “Resolution on the Independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina” as early as 1991, and their votes were decisive for adoption of that Resolution. If Croats did not support the Resolution on the Independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina, it could not be adopted.
The Lisbon Agreement, also known as the Carrington-Cutileiro Plan, formulated in February 1992 by the European Community (EC) for prevention of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Plan contained principles of new state composition and establishment of three ethnically defined federal units: Bosniak, Serb and Croat. The adoption of the Plan was an EC condition for international recognition of Bosnia and Herzegovina as independent state. By the end of February 1992 all three sides adopted the Plan in some form. After the Referendum on Decision on the Independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina on March 18, 1992 all three sides signed the Agreement: Alija Izetbegović on behalf of the Muslims, Radovan Karadžić on behalf of the Serbs and Mate Boban on behalf of the Croats. Shortly afterwards, Alija Izetbegović withdrew his signature and rejected the Carrington-Cutileiro Plan, and in doing so “legitimized” future military conflicts.
Legitimate representatives of the Croat side formulated the Referendum question on the Independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina, known as “The Livno Question.” The formulation of the question was completely in accordance with the principles adopted by the Carrington-Cutileiro Plan, and the formulation was accepted by the representatives of the International Community. Leadership of the Bosniak Party of Democratic Action, led by Alija Izetbegović, rejected “The Livno Question.” Despite dissatisfaction caused by the rejection of “The Livno Question,” Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina voted at the Referendum with turnout of almost 100% and they supported the Independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Croat support at the Referendum and results of their vote were decisive for conduction and success of the Referendum on the Independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina. If Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina did not support the Referendum and if they did not vote for the Independence, Bosnia and Herzegovina would not become an internationally recognized independent state.
The highest political and state level from Republic of Croatia recommended the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina to support the Referendum and to vote for the Independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Republic of Croatia was among the first states which recognized Bosnia and Herzegovina with its existing, so called “AVNOJ,” borders, and appointed its ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
As soon as the war spread from the territory of the Republic of Croatia to the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republic of Croatia proposed to Bosnia and Herzegovina an agreement on joint defense against Serbian-Yugoslav aggression. Alija Izetbegović rejected such cooperation until the Split Agreement.
Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina were first to have organized resistance to the aggression when the war started on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The best example is defense of the City of Mostar. Multinational leadership of the City of Mostar, in accordance with the Decision of the City Council, authorized the Croatian Defense Council for defense of the City. The Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina approved that Decision. That task was successfully accomplished, and very soon after that the Croatian Defense Council conducted the first large-scale liberation operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which liberated the wider area of Mostar, including parts of the municipalities of Čapljina and Stolac. As Sarajevo was already surrounded and blocked, prevention of the occupation and blockade of Mostar certainly highly influenced future course of the war and survival of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a state. If Croats did not through HRHB and HVO defend and liberate certain territories, Bosnia and Herzegovina would not survive as an independent state with its internationally recognized borders.
In 1993, there were almost 400,000 refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Republic of Croatia, 70% of them Muslims from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Muslim refugees were provided all the needed humanitarian aid, including the education in Bosnian language, even before the Bosnian language was officially recognized. Republic of Croatia allocated that year alone around 800 million dollars for humanitarian aid and accommodation of the refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina, four times more than for aid to the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
All the humanitarian, logistical and military support and aid for the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Muslim/Bosniak people, was transported through the Republic of Croatia and territories controlled by the Croatian Defense Council. Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina even had its own logistical centers in the Republic of Croatia. Various political events were conducted in the Republic of Croatia, including the sessions of the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war.
Entire military units of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina were established, trained, and equipped in the Republic of Croatia, and subsequently sent to the battlefields in Bosnia and Herzegovina (First Krajina Battalion was established and trained at the facilities of the Zagreb Fair, and Seventh Krajina Brigade was established and trained in the village Klana near the City of Rijeka and sent to the battlefield in Bosnia and Herzegovina).
During the whole course of war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, soldiers of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina were hospitalized and treated in the Republic of Croatia, both those wounded in the fight against the Army of Republika Srpska and the so-called Yugoslav People’s Army, and those wounded in the fight against the Croatian Defense Council.
Croats were the only side in Bosnia and Herzegovina that accepted literally all the international proposals and peace agreements, proposed by representatives of the EC/EU, UN, Contact Group or other international stakeholders, from the Carrington-Cutileiro Plan, trough the Vance-Owen Plan and the Owen-Stoltenberg Plan, to the Washington and Dayton Peace Agreements.
Before the start of clashes with the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, units of the Croatian Defense Council contained large number of the Muslims, around 30% of total staff, and there were whole units in which the Muslims were majority of the staff and soldiers. Soldiers of the Croatian Defense Council, regardless of their ethnicity, were equally treated and received same salaries, logistics and all the other rights. If compared with two other armies in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina – the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Army of Republika Srpska – the Croatian Defense Council had the most ethnically diverse staff.
Before the start of clashes between the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Croatian Defense Council, there was not any persecutions or any other sort of harm towards the Muslims in the area of the Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia, i.e. in the area where the Croatian Democratic Union had political power and the Croatian Defense Council had military control. The best example is again the City of Mostar, which received a huge number of the Muslim refugees from area under the control of the Army of Republika Srpska, and where the less numerous units of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina enjoyed complete logistical support from the Croatian Defense Council, what is recorded, among other evidences, by written requests of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina commanders in Mostar sent to the logistical units of the Croatian Defense Council.
52,000 Bosniaks were expelled from the areas under control of the Croatian Defense Council, and 172,000 of Croats were expelled from the areas under the control of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Out of all refugees and displaced people in Bosnia and Herzegovina, only 9.12% were expelled from the “Croat areas,” 43.10% were expelled from “Muslim areas,” and 47.40% were expelled from the “Serb areas.” 466,000 of Croats, or 61.24% of all Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina were expelled and displaced. 647,000 of Serbs, or 44.24% of all Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina were expelled, and 842,000 of Muslims or 47.36% of all Muslims/Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina were expelled. These figures undoubtedly tell us that in the sense of proportionality Croats suffered the most serious expulsions and displacements, as well as that significantly less people were expelled and displaced from “Croat areas” than from “Muslim/Bosniak areas” and “Serb areas.”
331 detention camps and prisons existed in the areas under control of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with 14,444 Croats held captive, including 10,346 civilians and 4,098 soldiers of the Croatian Defense Council. In these detention camps and prisons 632 soldiers of the Croatian Defense Council were killed. Soldiers of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina also killed 1,051 Croat civilians in these camps, including 121 children. Despite these facts, both the Hague Tribunal and the Bosniak public are repeatedly focused on Dretelj, Gabela and Heliodrom alone, at the same time ignoring the Bosniak detention camps and suffering that occurred there, some of which go as far as to call these detention camps of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina “collection centers.”
After the Split Agreement, joint military forces of the Croatian Army, the Croatian Defense Council and the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina deblocked City of Bihać and its surrounded enclave, preventing repetition of Srebrenica-like events in that area and liberating large part of Bosnia and Herzegovina under the control of the Army of Republika Srpska, thus finally making precondition for the end of war and for the Dayton Agreement.
Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia was not abolished, and it did not disappear. Contrary, it was additionally recognized by the Washington and the Dayton Agreements and it became part of the constitutional system of the Federation Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a state. The Croatian Defense Council was recognized as legitimate and equal component of the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We remind that the Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia, together with the Republic of Croatia and the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was an equal co-signatory of the Preliminary Agreement on the creation of the Federation Bosnia and Herzegovina, so called Washington Agreement, signed on March 18, 1994. The Agreement was signed by Mate Granić on the behalf of the Republic of Croatia, by Haris Silajdžić on the behalf of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and by Krešimir Zubak on the behalf of the Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia. Through the implementation of the document „Dayton Agreement on the Implementation of the Federation Bosnia and Herzegovina“ (DAIF), the Washington Agreement became internal part of the Dayton Agreement, and it confirmed its status as a part of the legal basis of the constitutional system of both the Federation Bosnia and Herzegovina and Bosnia and Herzegovina as a state itself.
Republic of Croatia is a co-signatory of the Washington and the Dayton Agreement and member-state of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Both Republic of Croatia and the Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia never denied independence and internationally recognized borders of Bosnia and Herzegovina in any of their official documents.
Bearing in mind all the above, we once again emphasize that the judgments rendered by this verdict, which was based on wrong assumptions and unfounded constructions, does not give rise to any legal consequences for the internal constitutional and legal structure of BiH, nor to the constitutional and legal status of Croats as constituent people in BiH. HRHB become part of the Federation of BiH’s and BiH’s constitutional and legal order thanks the Washington and Dayton accords, and that fact will remain true after this verdict. The HVO is a legitimate and equal component of the BiH Armed Forces and will continue to be in the future. Until today, Croats have created and rescued BiH three times: in the Assembly of BiH, by supporting and conducting the referendum on independence of BiH, and due to military successes made by Croats in the unwanted and imposed war. Croats continue to do so for the fourth time, by defending the BiH Constitution and the Dayton Accords, thereby building Bosnia and Herzegovina as a state in which the three peoples will be constituent and mutually equal, and all citizens regardless of their nationality are free and equal in all rights.
No decision by the Hague Tribunal can challenge the constitutionality and equality of Croats in BiH, nor can it prevent our legitimate and justified struggle to achieve full constitutional, institutional and political equality of Croats in BiH. By fighting for the equality of Croats, we are also fighting for the only possible stable, sustainable, and prosperous BiH, a state of equal peoples and free citizens. The sacrifice of our unjustly condemned friends, colleagues, and fellow fighters will be an additional inspiration and constant warning that we should never stop, even at the cost of personal sacrifice of anyone one of us.
Moreover, we consider the role of the Republic of Croatia in the war in BiH as extremely positive and useful not only for the integrity and independence of BiH, but also for the position of Muslim/Bosniak interests in BiH. Without the logistical, humanitarian, medical and military assistance provided by the Republic of Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as to the Muslim/Bosniak people, the outcome of the war in BiH would certainly be much more unfavorable for both the country of BiH and for the Muslim/Bosniak people. Therefore, we consider the accusations of Croatia’s aggression against BiH and the negative connotation of its military and political role in the war in BiH to be the expression of hypocritical unkindness and cynicism.
As legitimate representatives of the Croat people in BiH, we sympathize with all who have in any way been harmed during the past war, and we are paying tribute to all the victims. But also, we express our deep gratitude and respect for all good and useful things that our friends, co-fighters and colleagues Jadranko Prlić, Bruno Stojić, Slobodan Praljak, Milivoj Petković, Valentin Ćorić and Berislav Pušić made in the struggle for the survival and self-reliance of Croats in BiH.
Once again, we want to express our immense respect towards the heroic sacrifice of his own life, which general Slobodan Praljak made, in defense of his honor and the honor and dignity of Croat people.