Slobodan Praljak: The Bosnian Croat war criminal who drank poison at The Hague

Slobodan Praljak: The Bosnian Croat war criminal who drank poison at The Hague

Reports claim Slobodan Praljak has died after drinking poison

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

To older observers, it must have been chillingly reminscent of the last days of Nazi Germany.

Bosnian Croat war criminal Slobodan Praljak decided to take his own life today, rather than face justice. And he did it in the most dramatic style possible, drinking poison in court as soon as the verdict was read out, quashing his appeal against a 20-year jail term imposed in 2013.

Like the evil Nazi triumverate of Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Goering, Praljak had opted to end his life on his own terms. He'd appealed a conviction Rather than rotting in jail, he wanted to administer his own form of punishment. Suffering and remorse were for others, but never for him.

Praljak maintained his innocence to his dying breath. As he put the poison to his lips, he was heard to cry "I am not a war criminal. I oppose this conviction." Yet, in reality, there is a mountain of evidence painting him as a cast-iron villain of the Balkans war.

Praljak served as a general in the war between 1992-1995, which was essentially about whether Bosnia should stay in the Yugoslav Federation or be independent. He was also an advisor to Croatian President Franco Tudjman.

Before the war the man had worked as a writer and film director and also worked in theatre. Reports claim this rather unlikely polymath had also qualified as an electrical engineer. Yet the conflict turned him into a monster, a brutal henchman bent on destruction.

In 2013 he was convicted, alongside five others, of persecuting, expelling and murdering Muslims during the Croat-Bosniak war. He was given a 20-year prison sentence at the end of a tortuous trial which had begun in 2006.

All six appealed the decision and called for judges to shorten the sentences given, or acquit them of the charges. They also denied that there had been a criminal enterprise against the Bosniaks. However the prosecution called for the group to be given even longer sentences.

The crimes were said to have taken place in eight municipalities in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1993 and 1994. These acts were recorded as violation of laws and customs of war, crimes against humanity and grave violations of the Geneva Convention.

Judges at The Hague ruled that the treatment of Muslims was "not the random acts of a few unruly soldiers” but instead part of a plan to completely eradicate Muslims from the area which had been claimed by Bosnian Croats.

The court ruled they were trying to make this area into "a Croat entity, whose borders would partially follow the borders of the Croatian republic from 1939.” The trial also heard they were trying to unite Herzeg-Bosnia with Croatia if Herzegovina fell, or be part of a Bosnia and Herzegovina with close ties to Croatia.

Praljak was also accused of being responsible for the destruction of the Old Bridge in Mostar, which was a great symbol of Bosnia's Islamic community and had withstood two world wars. He denied these claims.

He also claimed Bosniaks suffered in Bosnia and Herzegovina because the state had collapsed due to “the Serb aggression” and “chaos" caused by the aggression of Bosniaks against Croats and the alleged betrayal of Bosniak politicians.

Bosnia-Herzegovina is now an independent state but is under international administration. The country has also asked to become part of the European Union, and membership could allow it to plan for a brighter future.

Yet the country remains deeply scarred by what happened 20 years ago, due to the vile deeds of Praljak and his fellow war-mongers.