Croatian ex-generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač were convicted in April 2011 by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which sits in The Hague. Mr. Gotovina, who commanded the Split military district of the Croatian army from 1992 to 1996, was sentenced to 24 years in prison. Mr. Markac, who served as the Assistant Interior Minister in charge of Special Police matters after 1994, was jailed for 18 years.
The Court found them guilty of committing crimes against humanity – including murder, persecutions, deportation and plunder – and violations of the laws or customs of war, from July to September 1995, by participating in a joint criminal enterprise to permanently and forcibly remove the Serb civilian population from the Krajina region of Croatia.
In its Friday ruling, the Tribunal’s appeals chamber overturned the convictions and ordered that they be released immediately. The ruling was supported by three judges out of five.
Unlike the previous ICTY decisions this verdict provoked a widespread angry reaction. Carla del Ponte, former ICTY Chief Prosecutor said she was shocked. "I am shocked, very surprised and astonished because it is absolutely unbelievable what happened after ruling the sentence of 24 years in prison to general Ante Gotovina. Unbelievable. I cannot accept that. I sympathize in full with Serbian victims of the crime, a crime that we strongly proved with evidence and facts", Carla Del Ponte, former chief prosecutor of the ICTY said for the Serbian Blic newspaper. “I am really shocked because this is not justice".
What’s more, and what appears to be generally overlooked, is that the ICTY mandate has already expired. “The decision to acquit the two Croatian generals was taken by a Court whose mandate expired way back in 2010, which means it is no longer a legitimate legal body, it is no longer authorized to rule,” Vasiliy Sokolov, Russian expert in Balkan policies, is pointing out. “The recent verdict has dealt another painful blow to the whole of the international legislation which is now crumbling down like a card house”.
“The decision by the Tribunal’s Appeals Chamber on the Storm operation has evoked understandable indignation in many parts of the world", Mr Jeremic, former Foreign Minister of Serbia, pointed out, “It’s an undeniable fact that about a quarter of a million of Serbs were driven out of their homes in a matter of days, yet the Court that was set up to investigate this and similar crimes, has ruled that no one bears responsibility for that, which in its turn suggests that there has been no crime at all.”
That might well explain why the ICTY activity has become the focus of the debate at the UN General Assembly. Vuk Jeremić, the President of the 67th session of the UN General Assembley, to initiate the debates on how the international legislation affects the peace and reconciliation effort in the region. The debates have been already entered on the agenda of the UN General Assembly in April 2013.