Bosnia Herzegovina: Blaskic trial, a milestone in the achievement of justice for war crimes

He was convicted on all but one of 20 charges against him and

sentenced to 45 years' imprisonment, the highest sentence imposed so far,

reflecting the gravity of the crimes committed and the accused's status as

a commander.

Charges against him included the organisation of the persecution of

Bosnian Muslims through systematic attacks on cities, towns and villages

throughout central Bosnia including Vitez, Busovaca, Kiseljak and Ahmici.

He was also held responsible for the detention of Bosnian Muslims at eight

separate centres, where people were used as human shields, beaten, forced

to dig trenches and suffered both physical and psychological abuses.

The Trial Chamber found that General Blaskic had been instrumental in

the establishment and operation of the HVO (Croatian Defence Council) and

Bosnian Croat police units in Central Bosnia. He also played a pivotal

political role in the persecution of Bosniacs (Bosnian Muslims).

According to the Trial Chamber, General Blaskic was fully aware of

human rights abuses committed by the armed forces under his command. In

1994 he was the deputy chief-of-staff responsible for investigating war

crimes. It also concluded that he never used his authority to bring to

account a single soldier in the HVO, Bosnian Croat military police or

paramilitary units for crimes such as the murder of over 100 Bosniac

civilians in Ahmici village.

With this verdict the tribunal to determined for the first time the

international character of the Croat-Bosniac conflict in central Bosnia

because of the extensive intervention by Croatia, which sent large numbers

of its own troops to fight alongside HVO units. On various occasions,

Tribunal requests for information from the Croatian Government in relation

to its military involvment in the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina were

refused or delayed, contributing to the length of the proceedings and

hampering the Tribunal's ability to render justice in this case. General

Blaskic has the right to appeal his conviction and sentence.

General Tihomir Blaskic is the highest-ranking military commander so

far convicted by the Tribunal, after a trial which lasted for over two

years. A total of 158 witnesses were heard, including international

politicians and military commanders such as General Philippe Morillon, the

first French army official to testify before the Tribunal.

'Amnesty International believes that the bringing to justice of those

suspected of such crimes is an essential step for the restoration of human

rights. It urges UN member states and the governments in the region to

continue to pay their debts to the thousands of victims of human rights

violations during the armed conflicts in former Yugoslavia by arresting

those who have been indicted by the Tribunal,' Amnesty International said.

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