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Address by H.E. Dr. Ivo Sanader, Prime Minister of the Republic of Croatia, at the UN General Assembly Session

I want to emphasize that the Republic of Croatia was one of the proponents of the establishment of the ICTY, not only as a country directly affected by the war, but also as a country committed to establishing an international institution devoted to the implementation of criminal adjudication for the purpose of international justice.

Mr. President,
Distinguished Representatives,
It is a great privilege for me to participate in the deliberations at this session of the General Assembly of the United Nations dedicated to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
I have listened with utmost interest to the annual report submitted by His Honor, President of the ICTY, H.E. Judge Fausto Pocar, who work we highly appreciate. I am pleased that the Tribunal also appreciates its cooperation with Croatia.

I want to emphasize that the Republic of Croatia was one of the proponents of the establishment of the ICTY, not only as a country directly affected by the war, but also as a country committed to establishing an international institution devoted to the implementation of criminal adjudication for the purpose of international justice.
Now, fourteen years later, we note with satisfaction that some of the goals from the Tribunal’s mandate and mission have been achieved. Some of the major perpetrators have been prosecuted, peace has been restored and confidence is growing. However, there is still room for improvement.

Only through a proper analysis of the work of the ICTY can we draw precious lessons for the future – and it is for the future that we have to be thorough and critical in evaluating its work.

The role of the ICTY, and the messages that it sends through its practice, are of extreme importance nowadays when humanity is being continuously challenged. By properly and justly prosecuting those responsible for war crimes and atrocities committed in the past in places like Vukovar, Srebrenica, or Rwanda, we should also discourage those willing, aiming to or already doing the same today in places like Darfur and elsewhere.

We strongly believe that one of the aims of the reforms of the United Nations system should be to enhance the indispensable role of UN institutions in the prevention of gross human rights violations, and the protection and promotion of humanitarian law and rule of law in general. Strict adherence to humanitarian law and to the rule of law on national and international levels is essential for a more peaceful and just world, for human security and trustful cooperation among peoples and nations. The prosecution of war crimes and gravest breaches of humanitarian law must be fully ensured.
This brings to focus the role and responsibility of existing institutions, including the Hague Tribunal.
In many cases the tribunal has been a vehicle for justice and for asserting the values of humanity. However, no institution should be immune from criticism. A proper analysis of the Tribunal’s work does not challenge its independence, rather it is the only way to learn from experience for the benefit of international justice.

A just outcome of the prosecutions is the only way to discourage those who today, or might in the future, consider repeating such crimes.

Just punishment must be a measure of respect for the victims.

Just punishment is the best deterrent.
Just punishment must also serve truth and open the way to lasting peace, security and reconciliation.
With this in mind, I have come here to convey to you the voice of dismay of the people of Croatia over the recent ruling in the Vukovar Hospital patients’ massacre case, at Ovčara farm. In my letter of 28 September 2007, I informed the UN member states accordingly.
Mr. President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Vukovar is a Danube river town located on the eastern border of Croatia. Like any other town, as in any other part of the world, its people wanted nothing more but to live peacefully and work to build a prosperous future.

But in 1991, in the course of the aggression against Croatia, Vukovar was attacked with great force by the so-called Yugoslav People’s Army, the JNA. This attack was planned in great detail, with lines of command clearly established, by the military and political leadership of Milošević’s regime in Belgrade. During the attack, the JNA had both de jure and de facto command and control over all Serb forces including territorial defense forces and paramilitary units. Tens of thousands of troops participated in the aggression and siege of Vukovar. Hundreds of tanks pounded this town for months, razing the city to the ground. Fifty two mass graves later discovered in the Vukovar area testify to the severity of the onslaught. Gunboats and combat airplanes were indiscriminately used by the JNA. Families were expelled from their homes in the thousands, in what would later become known as a pattern of ethnic cleansing. The survivors of the Vukovar siege were displaced and sought refuge in 570 locations around the world.
Vukovar is a place where the worst war crimes in the territory of the Republic of Croatia were committed during the Serb aggression by Milošević’s regime.
On 20 November 1991, after Serb forces had occupied the city, 261 patients from the Vukovar Hospital were taken to the Ovčara farm, where they were tortured and killed in cold blood. Out of two hundred exhumed crime victims, 190 have been identified. Sixty-one are still missing. The documents on the identified persons undoubtedly confirmed that these were the people who were taken from the Vukovar Hospital. The documents have been delivered to the ICTY, and the Ovčara massacre was included by the prosecution in the indictment against Slobodan Milošević in 2001.
The crime committed at Ovčara farm, because of its horrifying nature and utter cruelty, as well as the helplessness of its victims, holds a special place among the crimes committed in the modern world.

On 27 September 2007, sixteen years later, the Trial Chamber of the ICTY delivered a judgment to three former senior officers of the JNA.

Mile Mrkšić was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment, Veselin Šljivančanin to 5 years' imprisonment, while Miroslav Radić was acquitted.
This judgment has caused consternation in Croatia and in the world. It defies the well known and documented facts relevant for the establishment of responsibility. The Tribunal treated the Ovčara massacre as an isolated case, rather than as part of a systematic policy, whose chain of command lead to the JNA’s military headquarters and the then political leadership in Belgrade.

Although all three indictees have been involved in numerous war crimes in Vukovar and Eastern Slavonia, the prosecution restrained their indictments only to the best known and documented Ovčara massacre. The prosecution might have expected that the horrible crimes committed in Ovčara would suffice for maximum sentences, but this did not happen.
Without any doubt, killings and mistreatments of the patients from the Vukovar Hospital were caused by premeditated unlawful actions by the occupying power. We have the right to ask then why the Geneva Conventions, whose principles were incorporated in the Statute of the ICTY, were ignored within the determination of the guilt of these JNA officers?

The Ovčara crime was not an isolated incident. War crimes do not begin at the scene of the crime, nor do they derive only from the existing circumstances in the battlefield. The crimes were preceded by policies that created the conditions for violence yet to come, with the goal of ethnic cleansing of this Croatian territory and the expulsion of the non-Serb population.

This is supported by the fact that ever since late August 1991, mass graves appear in the territory of Eastern Slavonia, but also in other parts of Croatia that experienced aggression (Banovina, Western Slavonia, Lika). So far, 143 mass graves have been discovered and exhumed. These mass graves contained, in most part, the remains of ordinary citizens who remained in their homes following the occupation, as well as prisoners of war.

Mr. President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the time of the Vukovar massacre the world was shocked. Sixteen years later a new shock followed.
Croatia is deeply hurt by the injustice done to the Croatian people in Vukovar by demeaning this undeniable, inhumane and deliberate crime in the first instance sentence. In this respect, Croatia is not alone: the sentence provoked many negative reactions from international human rights groups and prominent individuals, government officials, parliamentarians, including the EU-Croatia Joint Parliamentary Committee.

The victims of this atrocity are dearly missed by their families and by the Croatian People.

Let me be clear, I am bringing back the most painful memories of those days because I strongly believe they must serve as a reminder for the world today: NEVER AGAIN!
This is where the responsibility of the ICTY is so evident, as nothing encourages crime more then impunity. And it is precisely for this reason that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia was established in 1993.

Croatia expects that upon the prosecutor’s appeal the ICTY appeals chamber will carefully reexamine this verdict and act in accordance with a clear mandate assigned to it by the UN Security Council. We ask for justice for all victims in Vukovar and elsewhere. This is of paramount importance for the future of international criminal justice.
This is of paramount importance because all crimes are individual. They must not be related to any nation. Fairness, truth and justice should help to close the pages of recent history in South Eastern Europe.

Croatia is ready to lead the way in this endeavor. We hope that today’s post-Milošević democratically oriented political forces in Serbia are choosing the same direction. This would further strengthen regional confidence and cooperation and ensure lasting peace and stability in the region. One of the preconditions for this to happen is the extradition of two of the most infamous indicted war criminals Karadžić and Mladić as well as Goran Hadžić, indicted for war crimes committed in Vukovar and Eastern Slavonia. In this way justice would be fully served.

Mr. President,
Distinguished Representatives,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The indictment against Milošević came too late after the horrible crimes committed in Croatia to serve as a deterrent for new crimes, not only in Croatia, but also in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. His death made it impossible for his sentence to clearly outline the development of politics that used aggression and the systematic application of war crimes, and which represents the framework within which all other individual crimes in the territory of the former Yugoslavia have been committed regardless of their perpetrators. On the other hand, no indictments have ever been filed against Veljko Kadijević and Blagoje Adžić, leaders of the JNA who were instrumental in implementing such politics through military means, and at least through command responsibility, but also likely through participation in joint criminal enterprise responsible for numerous war crimes.

Improvement is also possible in some other areas, and in this respect Croatia reaffirms its commitment to continue to fully cooperate with the Tribunal and its readiness to render help and assistance in order to enable the Tribunal to fulfill the tasks described above, as a responsible and credible member of the international community.
The Croatian judiciary has shown its maturity in fairly and freely trying even the most sensitive cases. As a result, the ICTY demonstrated its trust in the Croatian judiciary by transferring the cases of Croatian officers Ademi and Norac to the Croatian court. Within the framework of the ICTY’s completion strategy, which we fully support, Croatia stands ready to take over all the remaining cases involving Croatian citizens.

Mr. President,

The issue of war crimes’ punishment relates to the responsibility in a broader sense.
It relates to the responsibility of the international community to ensure effectiveness in preventing conflicts and protecting and promoting human rights, humanitarian law and the rule of law in general.
It relates also to the present state of affairs in the world.
Let us look around. Evidence of inhumanity, violence and human sufferings are only too visible.
My message from this floor is clear and forthright – everybody, everywhere, should have no doubt that any and all crimes against humanity will not be allowed to go unpunished. This is our common responsibility. Only then can we create a better world for our posterity.

Croatia considers the United Nations an indispensable instrument of our common struggle for such a future – a future that will bring hope to new generations and a more peaceful and just world.

Mr. President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The world must be a better place tomorrow. This is our responsibility today. Vukovar’s victims deserve justice.

Thank you.